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Diabetologia. 2014 Mar;57(3):447-50. doi: 10.1007/s00125-013-3151-2. Epub 2013 Dec 21.

Is there a role for the adaptive immune system in pancreatic beta cell failure in type 2 diabetes?

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Child & Family Research Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Pancreatic beta cell failure dictates the clinical onset of type 2 diabetes, with insulin secretion insufficient to overcome peripheral tissue insulin resistance. Over the past 5-10 years, a convincing case has emerged supporting the contribution of islet inflammation to this beta cell failure. IL-1 is central to this insult, impairing insulin secretion in preclinical and clinical studies. Further, islet-infiltrating macrophages are a major source of IL-1 and other cytokines in response to elevated levels of nutrients (glucose, saturated fatty acids), endocannabinoids and islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP). In this issue of Diabetologia, Butcher et al have further characterised immune cell subsets present in islets from individuals with type 2 diabetes (DOI: 10.1007/s00125-013-3116-5). Increased numbers of CD45(+) leucocytes were found in these islets compared with islets from healthy controls, with an elevated proportion of CD20(+) B cells within the CD45(+) population. Their data also suggest that absolute numbers of CD3(+) T cells and CD11b(+)CD11c(+) myeloid cells may be increased in islets from individuals with type 2 diabetes. While many aspects of islet inflammation await further exploration, the study from Butcher and colleagues suggests a role for immune cell-mediated inflammation early in disease pathogenesis, and supports the concept that targeting the immune system may slow continued beta cell demise in type 2 diabetes.

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