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Diabetes. 2008 Oct;57(10):2728-36. doi: 10.2337/db07-1252. Epub 2008 Jul 15.

Alterations in microRNA expression contribute to fatty acid-induced pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology and Morphology, Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.



Visceral obesity and elevated plasma free fatty acids are predisposing factors for type 2 diabetes. Chronic exposure to these lipids is detrimental for pancreatic beta-cells, resulting in reduced insulin content, defective insulin secretion, and apoptosis. We investigated the involvement in this phenomenon of microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of noncoding RNAs regulating gene expression by sequence-specific inhibition of mRNA translation.


We analyzed miRNA expression in insulin-secreting cell lines or pancreatic islets exposed to palmitate for 3 days and in islets from diabetic db/db mice. We studied the signaling pathways triggering the changes in miRNA expression and determined the impact of the miRNAs affected by palmitate on insulin secretion and apoptosis.


Prolonged exposure of the beta-cell line MIN6B1 and pancreatic islets to palmitate causes a time- and dose-dependent increase of miR34a and miR146. Elevated levels of these miRNAs are also observed in islets of diabetic db/db mice. miR34a rise is linked to activation of p53 and results in sensitization to apoptosis and impaired nutrient-induced secretion. The latter effect is associated with inhibition of the expression of vesicle-associated membrane protein 2, a key player in beta-cell exocytosis. Higher miR146 levels do not affect the capacity to release insulin but contribute to increased apoptosis. Treatment with oligonucleotides that block miR34a or miR146 activity partially protects palmitate-treated cells from apoptosis but is insufficient to restore normal secretion.


Our findings suggest that at least part of the detrimental effects of palmitate on beta-cells is caused by alterations in the level of specific miRNAs.

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