Low serum concentrations of the fourth component of complement (C4) are found in insulin dependent diabetes, and may be important in the aetiology of the disease. To ascertain whether function of C4 is also impaired both its haemolytic activity and its concentration were measured in 34 insulin dependent diabetics, 15 non-insulin dependent diabetics, 20 healthy subjects, and 12 pairs of monozygotic twins discordant for insulin dependent diabetes. C4 function was measured by a radial immune haemolytic assay, and C4 concentration by laser nephelometry. Both measurements were significantly lower in insulin dependent diabetics (C4 function: median 47%, range 4-100%; C4 concentration: 0.22 g/l, 0.10-0.38 g/l) than in non-insulin dependent diabetics (67%, 33-138%, p less than 0.01; 0.27 g/l, 0.16-0.50 g/l, p less than 0.02) and controls (74%, 33-138%, p less than 0.01; 0.27 g/l, 0.18-0.40 g/l, p less than 0.03). C4 function and concentration were lower in both diabetic (48%, 12-100%; 0.17 g/l, 0.08-0.31 g/l) and non-diabetic twins (47%, 12-100%; 0.17 g/l, 0.07-0.36 g/l) than controls (p less than 0.01; p less than 0.01). Thirteen (38%) of the insulin dependent diabetics had a reduction in either C4 function or concentration, but in only five were both features reduced. Values of function and concentration were strongly correlated in both diabetic and non-diabetic twins (r = 0.95, p less than 0.001; r = 0.92, p less than 0.001). These results show defects in C4 function and concentration in insulin dependent diabetes, which--being present in the non-diabetic co-twin of diabetics--may represent a genetic predisposition to the disease.
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