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. Results of a recent
study have shown how exposure to coxsackievirus can increase the
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
(β-cells) had a much higher risk of type 1 diabetes after infection
with viruses, including coxsackievirus. Lack of β-cell HIF-1A
increased β-cell death and, in turn, increased the incidence of
type 1 diabetes.
Lead researcher Professor Jenny Gunton said the findings
highlight the key role β-cells play in the risk of diabetes.
"If they are healthy, then β-cells recover normally after
stresses like viral infections, and diabetes does not develop. But,
if β-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
β-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 β-cell specific model to show increased risk of type 1
diabetes with a range of triggers," said Professor 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 β-cells in the pancreas.
These are the only cells in the body that make insulin, which we
need to control our blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Professor 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.
Professor Jenny Gunton is affiliated with The Westmead Institute
for Medical Research, Westmead Hospital and the University of