Apoptosis and beta-cell destruction in pancreatic islets of NOD mice with spontaneous and cyclophosphamide-accelerated diabetes

P. Augstein, A. G. Elefanty, J. Allison, L. C. Harrison

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Autoimmune-mediated destruction of pancreatic islet beta cells leads to insulin-dependent diabetes in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice. Although both direct cytotoxic T cell- and indirect cytokine-, nitric oxide- or free radical-mediated mechanisms induce beta-cell apoptosis in vitro, beta-cell death in vivo in spontaneous autoimmune diabetes is not well-characterized. Furthermore, whether beta cells die gradually, or rapidly in the late pre- clinical stage, is a question of current interest. To investigate beta-cell death in vivo, we measured the frequency and intra-islet localisation of apoptosis, defined as DNA strand breaks by the terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labelling (TUNEL) technique, during spontaneous and cyclophosphamide-accelerated diabetes in NOD mice. In spontaneous diabetes, the frequency of apoptosis in islets correlated with the progression of beta-cell destruction with age. Although apoptosis was detected at low frequency within the reduced insulin-positive islet area of pre-diabetic mice at 90 days of age, it was rarely co-localised to beta cells. After acceleration of beta-cell destruction with cyclophosphamide, the frequency of apoptosis reached maximum at 12 days, at which time 3.2 % of apoptotic cells were beta cells. Apoptosis was most frequent in the insulin- negative islet area comprised of mononuclear cell infiltrate and was localized to CD8+ T cells. The rarity of detectable apoptotic beta cells in spontaneous prediabetic mice with pronounced insulitis and reduced insulin- positive islet areas most likely reflects the rapid clearance of apoptotic beta cells. Our findings are more consistent with gradual destruction of non- renewable beta-cells in spontaneous diabetes, than with their rapid, accelerated destruction (as after cyclophosphamide) in the late pre-clinical stage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1381-1388
Number of pages8
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Beta-cell apoptosis
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Diabetes
  • NOD mouse
  • T cells

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