Gestational diabetes mellitus: evidence for autoimmunity against the pancreatic beta cells

Diabetologia. 1991 Jul;34(7):507-10. doi: 10.1007/BF00403287.


Diabetes mellitus is a frequent transient or rare permanent complication of pregnancy. The role of autoimmune phenomena in this gestational form of diabetes is incompletely understood. We have examined sera from 312 pregnant women who had abnormal glucose tolerance (based on a screening examination during the second trimester) for the presence of islet cell surface antibodies or insulin autoantibodies. Fifty-eight of these women were lost to follow-up. Of the remaining subjects, 144 (57.1%) had gestational diabetes diagnosed by formal glucose tolerance testing and the others (42.9%) were normal. Sixty percent of the women with gestational diabetes eventually required insulin to control their blood glucose during pregnancy. One serum from the non-diabetic women was positive for insulin antibodies (0.9%); 8 of the sera from the patients with gestational diabetes were positive (5.6%). Subsequent analysis revealed that all nine of the women whose sera were positive for insulin autoantibodies had been treated with insulin previously. Islet cell surface antibodies were strongly correlated with gestational diabetes. Forty-five of 144 gestational diabetic sera were positive (31.3%) whereas only 9 of 108 suspect control sera (8.3%) and 7 of 60 unknown sera (11.7%) were positive. These data suggest that a high percentage of pregnant women who screen positive for glucose intolerance have serological evidence of an autoimmune response against the pancreatic islets, in spite of the state of relative immune tolerance during pregnancy. These data suggest that autoimmune phenomena may play a role in gestational diabetes and that the presence of islet cell antibodies can predict insulin-requiring gestational diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / analysis*
  • Diabetes, Gestational / diagnosis
  • Diabetes, Gestational / immunology*
  • Female
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Insulin Antibodies / analysis*
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Reference Values
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Autoantibodies
  • Insulin Antibodies
  • islet cell antibody