Aims/hypothesis: The diabetes-inducing potential of cows' milk is still debated and there is no consensus on the diabetogenicity of individual milk proteins. A(1)-beta-casein has been associated with increased diabetes frequency in ecological studies and in NOD mice. Our aim was to ascertain whether A(1)-beta-casein was more diabetogenic than A(2) and to test the diabetogenicity of a milk-free diet in animals representing different forms of spontaneous Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus.
Methods: Defined diets were coded and shipped to laboratories in New Zealand (NOD/NZ), Canada (BB) and the UK (NOD/Ba). Base diets were Pregestimil (PG) and ProSobee (PS). Purified fractions of whole casein (WC), A(1)or A(2)-beta-casein were added at 10%. A milk-free, wheat-predominant, NTP-2000 diet was the control. Animals were fed from weaning up to 150 or 250 days, and insulitis, diabetes frequency and expression of pancreatic cytokines were assessed.
Results: Diabetes incidence was highest in three locations in animals fed NTP-2000. PG and PS diets were protective except for NOD/Ba mice fed PG+WC where incidence was similar to NTP-2000. A(1) and A(2) diets were protective in both models, but A(1) beta-casein was slightly more diabetogenic in PS-fed BB rats. The New Zealand study was confounded by an infection.
Conclusion/interpretation: A milk-free, wheat-predominant diet was highly diabetogenic in three widely separate locations in both animal models. A previous result that A(1) beta-casein was more diabetogenic than A(2) beta-casein in NOD mice was not confirmed; both beta-casein variants were protective in BB rats and NOD mice. Whole Casein promoted diabetes in NOD/Ba but protected BB showing that unique diabetes haplotypes react differently to dietary proteins. A(1)- was more diabetogenic than A(2)-beta-casein only in PS-fed BB rats. Neither the analysis of insulitis nor of pancreatic cytokine gene expression showed a difference between A(1) or A(2) beta-casein fed animals. Milk caseins are unlikely to be exclusive promoters of Type I diabetes, but could enhance the outcome of diabetes in some cases. Other diet components such as wheat could be more important promoters of Type I diabetes.