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Diabetologia. 2002 Feb;45(2):224-30.

Combination therapy with low dose sirolimus and tacrolimus is synergistic in preventing spontaneous and recurrent autoimmune diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice.

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Department of Surgery, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.



Sirolimus and tacrolimus are immunosuppressive drugs that prevent rejection of pancreatic islet allografts transplanted into patients with Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus. This study aimed to determine whether sirolimus and tacrolimus can prevent autoimmune beta-cell destruction, and if so, what the mechanisms of action are.


Sirolimus and tacrolimus were given separately and together to female non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice from age 12 to 35 weeks. Diabetes incidence was determined and pancreatic insulitis and insulin content were measured. Sirolimus and tacrolimus were also given separately and together to diabetic NOD mice from the time of syngeneic islet transplantation until the reappearance of hyperglycaemia. Islet grafts were examined by RT-PCR assay for expression of interferon (IFN)- gamma, interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-10 and transforming growth factor (TGF)- beta1.


Low doses of sirolimus (0.1 mg/kg) and tacrolimus (0.1 mg/kg) were synergistic in reducing insulitis, preserving pancreatic insulin content and preventing diabetes in female NOD mice (8 % diabetes incidence at 35 weeks vs 66 % in vehicle-treated mice). Also, the combination of sirolimus and tacrolimus prolonged syngeneic islet graft survival (median 34 days vs 13 days for vehicle-treated mice). Islet grafts from sirolimus plus tacrolimus-treated mice expressed significantly decreased mRNA contents of Th1-type cytokines (IFN- gamma and IL-2) and the highest ratio of TGF- beta1/IFN- gamma mRNA.


These findings suggest that combination therapy with sirolimus and tacrolimus prevent autoimmune beta-cell destruction by upregulating expression of the immunoregulatory cytokine, TGF- beta1 and reducing Th1 cytokines (IFN- gamma and IL-2) expressed in the islets. Low-dose sirolimus and tacrolimus combination therapy could warrant consideration for prevention or early treatment of human Type I diabetes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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