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The role of viruses and environmental factors in the induction of diabetes.

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Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


The development of IDDM results from the destruction of pancreatic beta cells. Genetic factors, various immune system alterations, and environmental factors have been studied as the possible causes of IDDM. The concordance rate for developing IDDM between monozygotic twins approaches 50%, suggesting that genetic factors are necessary, but nongenetic factors such as various immune system alterations and environmental factors also influence the clinical expression of genetic susceptibility. Environmental factors (e.g., viruses, chemicals, and diet) affecting the induction of diabetes may act as primary injurious agents which damage pancreatic beta cells or as triggering agents of autoimmunity. Certain viruses including EMC-D and Mengo virus 2T can directly infect pancreatic beta cells and replicate in the cells. The replication of viruses in the beta cells results in the destruction of the cells within 3 days, and the infected mice develop a diabeteslike syndrome in 3-4 days without the involvement of autoimmunity. In contrast, rubella virus appears to be somewhat weakly associated with autoimmune IDDM in hamsters. In addition, endogenous retrovirus expressed in pancreatic beta cells is clearly associated with the development of insulitis and diabetes in NOD mice. In man, there appears to be no correlation between the detection of islet cell autoantibodies and anti-Coxsackie B viral antibodies in newly diagnosed IDDM. In contrast, persistent infection of CMV and rubella virus appears to be associated with the presence of autoantibodies in newly diagnosed IDDM patients. It is particularly noteworthy that human CMV can induce islet cell autoantibodies that react specifically with a 38 kDa islet cell protein which may represent islet cell-specific antigens in a proportion of CMV-associated IDDM cases. These observations suggest that the association of diabetes with Coxsackie B viruses might be due to cytolytic infection of the beta cells with no link to autoimmunity, while both rubella virus and CMV are probably associated with autoimmune IDDM. A number of structurally diverse chemicals including alloxan, streptozotocin, chlorozotocin, Vacor, and cyproheptadine are diabetogenic mainly in rodents and sometimes in man. Possible mechanisms for beta cell destruction by these chemicals include (a) generation of oxygen free radicals and alteration of endogenous scavengers of these reactive species; (b) breakage of DNA and a consequent increase in the activity of poly-ADP-ribose synthetase, an enzyme depleting nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide in beta cells; and (c) inhibition of active calcium transport and calmodulin-activated protein kinase activity. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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