Chronic exposure to free fatty acids or high glucose induces apoptosis in rat pancreatic islets: possible role of oxidative stress

Metabolism. 2002 Oct;51(10):1340-7. doi: 10.1053/meta.2002.35200.


We investigated the effect of a chronic exposure to high levels of free fatty acid (FFA; 2 mmol/L oleate/palmitate 2:1) or glucose (16.7 mmol/L) on islet cell apoptosis. Apoptosis was detected using 4 different methods: (1) cell staining with annexin-V fluorescien isothiocyanate (FITC) conjugate and propidium iodide (PI); (2) quantification of cytoplasmatic DNA fragments by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); (3) assay of caspase 3 activity; and (4) TdT-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL). Islet cells were also costained with an anti-insulin antibody to identify apoptotic beta cells. We also evaluated by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) the expression of bax, bcl-2, and caspas 3, genes involved in apoptosis. In islets cultured for 7 days in the presence of high FFA or for 3 days in the presence of high glucose levels, we observed: (1) a 2- to 3-fold increase of apoptotic cells conjugated with annexin-V FITC and PI; (2) a 4- to 6-fold increase of cytoplasmatic DNA fragments; (3) a 3- to 4-fold increase of caspase 3 activity; and (4) a significant increase of insulin positive apoptotic cells as detected with the TUNEL method. RT-PCR analysis indicated in islets exposed to high FFA or glucose levels an increase of bax (proapoptotic gene), a reduction of bcl-2 (antiapoptotic gene), and a slight (although not significant) increase in caspase 3 expression. Western blot analysis also showed an increase of Bax protein levels in islets exposed to high FFA or glucose. The simultaneous presence of both metabolic abnormalities did not further increase the amount of apoptotic cells, although the time-course of the cellular damage induced by FFA was accelerated by the contemporary presence of high glucose. To elucidate the mechanism by which FFA and glucose may induce pancreatic beta-cell damage, we examined whether nicotinamide prevents apoptosis in pancreatic islets cultured for 7 days with high FFA or for 3 days with high glucose. Nicotinamide was able to prevent beta-cell damage by significantly reducing apoptosis in both experimental conditions. Also, the increase of Bax protein level was prevented by nicotinamide. These data indicate that chronic exposure to elevated FFA or glucose levels increases apoptosis in rat pancreatic islets and these cytotoxic effects could be mediated by oxidative stress. This may contribute to the beta-cell failure that occurs in most in type 2 diabetic patients few years after clinical diabetes onset.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Annexin A5
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Fragmentation / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / pharmacology*
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Genes, bcl-2 / genetics
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Male
  • Necrosis
  • Niacinamide / pharmacology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Propidium
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Annexin A5
  • Antioxidants
  • Bax protein, rat
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Niacinamide
  • Propidium
  • Caspases
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate
  • Glucose