In 109 patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), we measured the urinary excretion of albumin, the low molecular weight proteins (LMWP) retinol-binding protein (RBP) and beta2-microglobulin (β2m), and brush-border antigens (BBA) revealed by monoclonal antibodies. All such markers of kidney damage and/or dysfunction were higher in diabetic patients than in 44 controls. Increased urinary levels of BBA (p = 0.0001) were associated with higher values of albumin (p = 0.0002), RBP (p = 0.0005) and, to a lesser extent, of β2m (p = 0.1), different combinations of values above the reference limits being observed. Some 30 and 40% of patients with and without microalbuminuria, respectively, also exhibited signs of tubulopathy. Although under certain circumstances tubular defects may give rise to small increases in albuminuria, the most likely explanation for our findings is the coexistence of glomerular and tubular damage in some patients with IDDM. Neither the prognostic value nor the pathophysiological meaning of tubular damage and/or dysfunction can be assessed by the present study, owing to its cross-sectional design. Tubular markers thus deserve further studies to clarify whether in diabetic patients they indicate a more severe or diffuse kidney impairment.
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