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Early trigger for type-1 diabetes found in mice, Stanford scientists report
Date:8/26/2008

nd McDevitt worked backwards from what they knew about how type-1 diabetes starts. Prior studies in diabetic mice showed a pathogenic role for immune cells called CD4+ T cells. These cells are an early player in the immune attack on the body's insulin factories, pancreatic beta cells. The scientists used silicon gene-chip technology to measure which genes are revved up in the CD4+ T cells just before they assault the pancreas. The measurements fell into a pattern: many of the upregulated genes were known to be controlled by interferon-alpha.

To confirm the signal's nefarious role, the researchers gave mice an antibody that blocks interferon-alpha activity several weeks before the animals were expected to develop diabetes. Thwarting interferon-alpha delayed the start of the disease by an average of four weeks, and, in 60 percent of treated mice, it prevented diabetes entirely.

The finding confirmed the importance of interferon-alpha and helped the scientists connect the dots between normal mouse physiology and early diabetes. Mice are born with more pancreatic beta cells than they need, Li noted. The extras soon undergo programmed cell death, leaving plenty of working beta cells to pump out insulin. However, in mice that develop diabetes, debris left behind by the dying cells triggers an inappropriate immune response, with lots of interferon-alpha. The interferon-alpha cues immune destruction of more and more beta cells, causing insulin deficiency and diabetes.

The mechanism may be more complex in humans, the scientists cautioned, explaining that while their new finding goes a long way toward explaining the beginnings of diabetes in the mice, additional genetic and environmental factors influence the human disease. But the basic principle of disease is likely the same in diabetic mice and humans, they said.

"A normal process - programmed cell death - causes a normal response," McDevitt said. "But it does this in such a way that, in
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Contact: Erin Digitale
digitale@stanford.edu
650-724-9175
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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