A new study has investigated how exposure to certain triggers
can increase the risk of type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research are
looking at an array of potential triggers that could increase the
risk of type 1. Results of a recent study have shown how exposure
to coxsackievirus can increase this risk. Coxsackievirus is a
common virus that causes diseases including myocarditis, Hand, Foot
and Mouth Disease and gastroenteritis.
The study discovered a key transcription factor (proteins that
help turn specific genes on or off) called hypoxia inducible factor
1-alpha (HIF-1A) is behind this increase in risk.
Researchers found that mice missing HIF-1A in beta cells had a
much higher risk of type 1 diabetes after infection with viruses,
including coxsackievirus. Lack of beta cell HIF-1A increased beta
cell death and, in turn, increased the incidence of type 1
Lead researcher Professor Jenny Gunton said the findings
highlight the key role beta cells play in the risk of diabetes. "If
they are healthy, then beta-cells recover normally after stresses
like viral infections, and diabetes does not develop. But, if beta
cells don't cope well with these stresses, it can trigger the
immune process that leads to type 1 diabetes.
"Our study also showed that the increase in diabetes risk can
result from exposure to other stresses, including toxins. So beta
cells play a crucial part in preventing their own death when faced
with environmental triggers for type 1 diabetes.
"We have now identified that HIF-1A is an important factor in
this decision about whether the cells recover, or die. This is the
first beta cell specific model to show increased risk of type 1
diabetes with a range of triggers," said Prof Gunton.
The findings highlight HIF-1A as a potential pathway for the
development of new preventative measures and suggest the
possibility that a vaccine for coxsackievirus could help prevent
type 1 diabetes in at-risk people.
This comes at a crucial time, as rates of type 1 diabetes are
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the immune
system attacks and kills beta cells in the pancreas. These are the
only cells in the body that make insulin, which we need to control
our blood glucose levels.
Prof Gunton said "While there is a strong genetic component to
type 1 diabetes, genes alone cannot explain the rising global rates
of type 1 diabetes. Currently, the only cures for type 1
diabetes are whole pancreas or islet transplantation, and people
have to take insulin for the rest of their lives. So potential
preventative strategies are exciting."
The research paper was published in Cell Reports.