Background: The potential benefits of islet xenografting in type 1 diabetes include the intriguing, but still unanswered, possibility that the grafted xenoislets may be less subjected to human autoimmune attack. Cytokines may play a major role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diabetes by causing impairment of insulin release and pancreatic islet cell toxicity.
Methods: We compared insulin secretion, islet cell death and survival, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA expression, nitrite production, and Bcl-2 and Bax mRNA expression in isolated human and large mammal (bovine) islets exposed to 50 U/ml recombinant human interleukin-1, 1,000 U/ml recombinant human tumor necrosis factor-alpha and 1,000 U/ml recombinant human interferon-gamma.
Results: After 24-hr exposure, a marked decrease of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion was observed with human, but not with bovine islets. After 48-hr exposure, human, but not bovine, pancreatic islets showed a significantly higher percentage of apoptotic cells compared to controls. Treatment of human islets with human cytokines induced up-regulation of iNOS mRNA, increased levels of nitrites, and down-regulation of Bcl-2 mRNA, with unchanged levels of Bax mRNA. These parameters were not affected by cytokines in bovine islets.
Conclusions: Bovine islets are less susceptible than human islets to the effects of human cytokines, which may be a potential advantage of xenotransplantation.