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Histochem Cell Biol. 2003 Jun;119(6):451-61. Epub 2003 Jun 11.

Immunohistochemical study of caspase-3-expressing cells within the pancreas of non-obese diabetic mice during cyclophosphamide-accelerated diabetes.

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School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Paediatrics, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


During insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, immune cells infiltrate pancreatic islets progressively and mediate beta cell destruction over a prolonged asymptomatic prediabetic period. Apoptosis may be a major mechanism of beta cell loss during the disease. This process involves a proteolytic cascade in which upstream procaspases are activated which themselves activate downstream caspases, including caspase-3, a key enzyme involved in the terminal apoptotic cascade. Here dual-label immunohistochemistry was employed to examine the intra-islet expression, distribution and cellular sources of active caspase-3 in the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse given cyclophosphamide to accelerate diabetes. NOD mice were treated at day 95 and caspase-3 expression was studied at days 0, 4, 7, 11 and 14. Its expression was also correlated with advancing disease and compared with age-matched NOD mice treated with diluent alone. At day 0 (=day 95), caspase-3 immunolabelling was observed in several peri-islet and intra-islet macrophages, but not in CD4 and CD8 cells and only extremely rarely in beta cells. At day 4, only a few beta cells weakly expressed the enzyme, in the absence of significant insulitis. At day 7, caspase-3 expression was observed in a small proportion of intra-islet macrophages. At day 11, there was a marked increase in the number of intra-islet macrophages positive for caspase-3 while only a few CD4 cells expressed the enzyme. At day 14, caspase-3 labelling became prominent in a significant proportion of macrophages. Only a few CD4 and CD8 cells expressed the enzyme. Capase-3 labelling was also present in a proportion of macrophages in perivascular and exocrine regions. Surprisingly, beta cell labelling of caspase-3 at days 11 and 14 was rare. At this stage of heightened beta cell loss, a proportion of intra-islet interleukin-1beta-positive cells coexpressed the enzyme. Caspase-3 was also observed in numerous Fas-positive cells in heavily infiltrated islets. During this late stage, only a proportion of caspase-3-positive cells contained apoptotic nuclei, as judged by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labelling (TUNEL). We conclude that during cyclophosphamide-accelerated diabetes in the NOD mouse, the predominant immunolabelling of caspase-3 in intra-islet macrophages suggests that apoptosis of macrophages may be an important mechanism for its elimination. The virtual absence of caspase-3 immunolabelling in most beta cells even during heightened beta cell loss supports their rapid clearance following their death during insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

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