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Diabetologia. 2010 Jun;53(6):1046-56. doi: 10.1007/s00125-010-1671-6. Epub 2010 Feb 25.

Toxic oligomers and islet beta cell death: guilty by association or convicted by circumstantial evidence?

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Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, VA Puget Sound Health Care System and University of Washington, 1660 South Columbian Way (151), Seattle, WA 98108, USA.


Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease characterised by islet amyloid deposits in the majority of patients. Amyloid formation is considered a significant factor in deterioration of islet function and reduction in beta cell mass, and involves aggregation of monomers of the normally soluble beta cell peptide, human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP) into oligomers, fibrils and, ultimately, mature amyloid deposits. Despite extensive in vitro studies, the process of hIAPP aggregation in vivo is poorly understood, though it is widely reported to promote cytotoxicity. Recently, studies have suggested that only the early stages of fibril assembly, and in particular small hIAPP oligomers, are responsible for beta cell cytotoxicity. This challenges the prior concept that newly formed fibrils and/or mature fibrillar amyloid are cytotoxic. Herein, evidence both for and against the toxic hIAPP oligomer hypothesis is presented; from this, it is apparent that what exactly causes beta cell death when hIAPP aggregates remains debatable. Moreover, substantially more work with more specific reagents and techniques than are currently available will be required to identify conclusively the toxic species resulting from hIAPP aggregation. Keeping an open mind on the nature of the cytotoxic insult has implications for therapeutic developments and clinical care in type 2 diabetes.

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