Environmental factors in the etiology of type 1 diabetes

Am J Med Genet. 2002 May 30;115(1):18-29. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.10340.


Type 1 diabetes is considered to be an autoimmune disease in which T lymphocytes infiltrate the islets of pancreas and destroy the insulin producing beta cell population. Besides antigen specificity, the quality of immune reactivity against islet cell antigen(s) is an important determinant of the beta cell destruction. Much evidence indicates that the function of the gut immune system is central in the pathogenesis, as the regulation of the gut immune system may be aberrant in type 1 diabetes. The role of virus infections in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes has been supported by substantial new evidence suggesting that one virus group, enteroviruses, may trigger the beta-cell damaging process in a considerable proportion of patients. The latest evidence comes from studies indicating the presence of viral genome in diabetic patients and from prospective studies confirming epidemiological risk effect. If this association holds still true in ongoing large-scale studies, intervention trials should be considered to confirm causality. Of the dietary putative etiological factors, cow's milk proteins have received the main attention. Many studies indicate an association between early exposure to dietary cow's milk proteins and an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. The question will be answered by a large scale, prospective, randomized, international intervention trial. Another dietary factor in need of more studies is the deficiency of vitamin D. Among toxins, N-nitroso compounds are the main candidates. An interaction of genetic and environmental factors is important in evaluating the possible role of a certain environmental factor in the etiology of type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Enterovirus Infections / complications
  • Environment
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Glutens / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Macrolides*
  • Milk / adverse effects
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Macrolides
  • Glutens
  • bafilomycin A1