Cholesterol induces pancreatic β cell apoptosis through oxidative stress pathway

Cell Stress Chaperones. 2011 Sep;16(5):539-48. doi: 10.1007/s12192-011-0265-7. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


Type 2 diabetes is often associated with high blood cholesterol. Here, we investigated the effect of cholesterol loading on MIN6 cells derived from pancreatic β cells. Exposure of MIN6 cells to cholesterol-induced apoptosis in time- and dose-dependent manner. Treatment with methyl-β-cyclodextrin that removes cholesterol from plasma membrane prevented the cells from cholesterol-induced apoptosis. Western blot analysis revealed that the levels of phosphorylated-p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (P-p38 MAPK) and c-Jun N-terminal kinases (P-JNK) were significantly increased after the cholesterol loading, suggesting that the stress-activated protein kinase signaling was stimulated. A specific p38 inhibitor rescued MIN6 cells from cholesterol-induced apoptosis, while JNK inhibitor failed, suggesting the importance of activation of p38 MAPK signaling in response to cholesterol. The expression of Bip and CHOP, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress markers, remained unaffected, indicating that the ER stress may not be involved in the cytotoxicity of cholesterol on the ΜΙΝ6 cells. The intracellular concentration of reactive oxygen species measured by use of 2',7'-dichlorofluorescin diacetate was significantly increased after cholesterol loading, demonstrating the induced apoptosis was mediated through oxidative stress. Addition of reduced form of glutathione in the medium rescued MIN6 cells from apoptosis induced by cholesterol loading. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the free cholesterol loading can induce apoptosis of MIN6 cells mediated by oxidative stress and the activation of p38 MAPK signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Cholesterol / pharmacology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Glutathione / pharmacology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / drug effects*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • beta-Cyclodextrins / pharmacology
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • beta-Cyclodextrins
  • methyl-beta-cyclodextrin
  • Cholesterol
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Glutathione