Aims/hypothesis: Proinsulin C-peptide is generally believed to be inert without any appreciable biological functions. However, it has been shown to modulate a variety of cellular processes important in the pathophysiology of diabetic complications. We therefore investigated the ability of C-peptide to stimulate intracellular signalling pathways in kidney proximal tubular cells, the altered activation of which may possibly be related to the development of diabetic nephropathy.
Methods: Extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and Akt phosphorylation were evaluated by western blotting. ERK activity was measured by in vitro kinase assay. Intracellular Ca(2+) was evaluated by confocal imaging. The membrane and cytosol-associated fractions of protein kinase C (PKC) isoforms were evaluated by western blotting. Proliferation was assessed by thymidine incorporation assay.
Results: Using the opossum proximal tubular kidney cell line as a model, we demonstrated that at high picomolar to low nanomolar concentrations, C-peptide stimulates extracellular signal-regulated mitogen-activated kinase (3.3+/-0.1-fold over basal at 3 minutes) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (4.1+/-0.05-fold over basal at 5 minutes). ERK activation was attenuated by pre-treatment with a PKC inhibitor and abolished by pertussis toxin. Elevations of intracellular [Ca(2+)] are seen in response to 5 nmol/l C-peptide with consequent activation of PKC-alpha. Pre-treatment with pertussis toxin abolished PKC-alpha. C-peptide is also a functional mitogen in this cell type, stimulating significantly increased cell proliferation. Proliferation was attenuated by wortmannin and pertussis toxin pre-treatments. None of these effects is reproduced by scrambled C-peptide.
Conclusions/interpretation: This study provides evidence that C-peptide, within physiological concentration ranges, stimulates many signalling pathways in opossum kidney cells.