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Diabetologia. 2020 Mar;63(3):549-560. doi: 10.1007/s00125-019-05066-7. Epub 2020 Jan 6.

Hyaluronan deposition in islets may precede and direct the location of islet immune-cell infiltrates.

Author information

Matrix Biology Program, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, 1201 9th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98101, USA.
Diabetes Research Program and Clinical Research Center, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Seattle, WA, USA.
Bioinformatics Department, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Seattle, WA, USA.
Matrix Biology Program, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, 1201 9th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98101, USA.
Histology and Imaging Core, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.
Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University/CRC, Skåne University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden.



Substantial deposition of the extracellular matrix component hyaluronan (HA) is characteristic of insulitis in overt type 1 diabetes. We investigated whether HA accumulation is detectable in islets early in disease pathogenesis and how this affects the development of insulitis and beta cell mass.


Pancreas tissue from 15 non-diabetic organ donors who were positive for islet autoantibodies (aAbs) and from 14 similarly aged aAb- control donors were examined for the amount of islet HA staining and the presence of insulitis. The kinetics of HA deposition in islets, along with the onset and progression of insulitis and changes in beta cell mass, were investigated in BioBreeding DRLyp/Lyp rats (a model of spontaneous autoimmune diabetes) from 40 days of age until diabetes onset.


Abundant islet HA deposits were observed in pancreas tissues from n = 3 single- and n = 4 double-aAb+ donors (aAb+HAhigh). In these seven tissues, the HA-stained areas in islets measured 1000 ± 240 μm2 (mean ± SEM) and were fourfold larger than those from aAb- control tissues. The aAb+HAhigh tissues also had a greater prevalence of islets that were highly rich in HA (21% of the islets in these tissues contained the largest HA-stained areas [>2000 μm2] vs less than 1% in tissues from aAb- control donors). The amount of HA staining in islets was associated with the number of aAbs (i.e. single- or double-aAb positivity) but not with HLA genotype or changes in beta cell mass. Among the seven aAb+HAhigh tissues, three from single- and one from double-aAb+ donors did not show any islet immune-cell infiltrates, indicating that HA accumulates in aAb+ donors independently of insulitis. The three aAb+HAhigh tissues that exhibited insulitis had the largest HA-stained areas and, in these tissues, islet-infiltrating immune cells co-localised with the most prominent HA deposits (i.e. with HA-stained areas >2000 μm2). Accumulation of HA in islets was evident prior to insulitis in 7-8-week-old presymptomatic DRLyp/Lyp rats, in which the islet HA-stained area measured 2370 ± 170 μm2 (mean ± SEM), which was threefold larger than in 6-week-old rats. This initial islet HA deposition was not concurrent with beta cell loss. Insulitis was first detected in 9-10-week-old rats, in which the HA-stained areas were 4980 ± 500 μm2. At this age, the rats also exhibited a 44% reduction in beta cell mass. Further enlargement of the HA-positive areas (mean ± SEM: 7220 ± 880 μm2) was associated with invasive insulitis. HA deposits remained abundant in the islets of rats with destructive insulitis, which had lost 85% of their beta cells.


This study indicates that HA deposition in islets occurs early in type 1 diabetes and prior to insulitis, and points to a potential role of HA in triggering islet immune-cell infiltration and the promotion of insulitis.


Autoantibodies; Extracellular matrix; Hyaluronan; Insulitis; Islet; Type 1 diabetes

[Available on 2021-03-01]

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