Prior to the discovery of insulin, the major cause of death in the diabetic population was ketoacidosis. Although insulin and improved glycemic control have improved the longevity of diabetic patients, they still suffer from significant morbidity and mortality due to chronic secondary complications. Long standing diabetes leads to structural and functional alterations in both the micro- and macrovasculature. These complications, involving the retina, kidney, and peripheral nerves, as well as cardiovascular system, severely compromise the quality and expectancy of life. Large scale clinical trials have identified hyperglycemia as the key determinant for the development of such complications. Therapeutic modalities have been developed to target glucose-induced alterations, such as protein kinase C activation, augmented polyol pathway activity, non-enzymatic glycation and oxidative stress to ameliorate chronic complications. However, clinical trials targeting these biochemical alterations have failed to show significant beneficial effects. The plethora of biochemical anomalies that govern the development of chronic diabetic complications may therefore be subject to cross-interaction and complex interplays. Studies in both animal and human diabetes have, however, showed alteration of several vasoactive effector molecules such as endothelins. These molecules may be instrumental in mediating diabetes-induced structural and functional deficits at both the early and late stages of the disease. This review will discuss the current mechanistic understanding of chronic diabetic complications and will explore the potential novel therapeutic interventions.
Keywords: Diabetes, aldose reductase, protein kinase C, advanced glycation end products, oxidative stress, endothelin, fibronectin