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Diabetologia. 2005 Oct;48(10):1957-62. Epub 2005 Sep 6.

Involvement of sulfatide in beta cells and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

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Bartholin Institute, Copenhagen University Hospital, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


Mammalian tissues express beta-isoforms of glycosphingolipids and, among these, sulfatide (sulphated galactosylceramide) is present in the beta cells, and it is here that the short fatty acid chain (C16) isoform is predominately found. In vitro studies have shown that sulfatide preserves insulin crystals and facilitates insulin monomerisation under certain biochemical conditions. It also activates beta cell potassium channels and moderates insulin secretion. Anti-sulfatide antibodies are seen in type 1 diabetes, and immunological presentation of glycosphingolipids by the non-classical CD1 molecules has recently been reported. It is via this mechanism that alpha-galactosylceramide and sulfatide are able to influence the innate immune system and inhibit autoimmunity, possibly through regulatory natural killer T cells. Administration of sulfatide substantially reduces the incidence of diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice and prevents antigen-induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in wild-type mice. Sulfatide has specific anti-inflammatory properties, increasing the number of CD3+CD25+ regulatory T cells and reducing production of several cytokines, including TNF-alpha. Patients with type 2 diabetes have low serum concentrations of sulfatide, and some animal models of type 2 diabetes have low pancreatic expression of C16:0 sulfatide; administration of this increases insulin secretion and improves first-phase insulin response in Zucker fatty rats. Glycosphingolipids in general, and sulfatide in particular, appear relevant to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

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