JDRF-funded scientists from the Indiana University School of Medicine have found that a specific type of cellular stress takes place in pancreatic beta cells before the onset of type 1 diabetes and this stress response in the beta cell may in fact help ignite the autoimmune attack. These findings shed an entirely new light into the mystery behind how changes in the beta cell may play a role in the earliest stages of type 1 diabetes, and adds a new perspective to the understanding of how type 1 diabetes progresses, and how to prevent and treat the disease.
The researchers, led by Sarah Tersey, Ph.D., assistant research professor of pediatrics, and RaghavendraMirmira, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, showed for the first time in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes that beta cells become stressed early in the disease process, before the animal develops type 1 diabetes. In response to the stress, beta cells activate a cell death pathway leading to the loss of beta cell mass in the animal.
This study, published in the journal Diabetes, shows that beta cell stress is occurring at the earliest stages of the disease process, raising the intriguing possibility that beta cell stress could be part of the trigger for the autoimmune process that leads to type 1 diabetes. This provides some insight on the early events in type 1 diabetes progression, and also suggests that drugs or therapeutic strategies that alleviate cell stress might be used to delay progress of the disease, either preventing insulin dependence or preserving beta cell function, improving glucose control and reducing the risk of complications.