Proinsulin Secretion Is a Persistent Feature of Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes Care. 2019 Feb;42(2):258-264. doi: 10.2337/dc17-2625. Epub 2018 Dec 10.


Objective: Abnormally elevated proinsulin secretion has been reported in type 2 and early type 1 diabetes when significant C-peptide is present. We questioned whether individuals with long-standing type 1 diabetes and low or absent C-peptide secretory capacity retained the ability to make proinsulin.

Research design and methods: C-peptide and proinsulin were measured in fasting and stimulated sera from 319 subjects with long-standing type 1 diabetes (≥3 years) and 12 control subjects without diabetes. We considered three categories of stimulated C-peptide: 1) C-peptide positive, with high stimulated values ≥0.2 nmol/L; 2) C-peptide positive, with low stimulated values ≥0.017 but <0.2 nmol/L; and 3) C-peptide <0.017 nmol/L. Longitudinal samples were analyzed from C-peptide-positive subjects with diabetes after 1, 2, and 4 years.

Results: Of individuals with long-standing type 1 diabetes, 95.9% had detectable serum proinsulin (>3.1 pmol/L), while 89.9% of participants with stimulated C-peptide values below the limit of detection (<0.017 nmol/L; n = 99) had measurable proinsulin. Proinsulin levels remained stable over 4 years of follow-up, while C-peptide decreased slowly during longitudinal analysis. Correlations between proinsulin with C-peptide and mixed-meal stimulation of proinsulin were found only in subjects with high stimulated C-peptide values (≥0.2 nmol/L). Specifically, increases in proinsulin with mixed-meal stimulation were present only in the group with high stimulated C-peptide values, with no increases observed among subjects with low or undetectable (<0.017 nmol/L) residual C-peptide.

Conclusions: In individuals with long-duration type 1 diabetes, the ability to secrete proinsulin persists, even in those with undetectable serum C-peptide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • C-Peptide / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Fasting / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Male
  • Meals
  • Middle Aged
  • Proinsulin / blood
  • Proinsulin / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Proinsulin