Considerable evidence shows that chronic hyperglycemia can cause pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction, which contributes to progressive deterioration of glucose homeostasis and overt diabetes. In the present study, we found that kaempferol, a flavonol compound present in various Chinese medicinal herbs, has cytoprotective effects on cultured clonal beta-cells and pancreatic human islets. Kaempferol treatment dose-dependently promoted viability, inhibited cellular apoptosis, and reduced caspase-3 activity in beta-cells and human islets exposed to chronic high glucose, with 10 μM kaempferol exerting the maximum effect. In addition, kaempferol treatment improved the expression of anti-apoptotic proteins Akt and Bcl-2 that was significantly reduced in beta-cells and human islets chronically exposed to hyperglycemia. Furthermore, exposure of beta-cells and human islets to kaempferol restored high glucose-attenuated intracellular cAMP and ATP production. Inhibition of protein kinase A or Akt activation ablated the anti-apoptotic effect of kaempferol. These cytoprotective effects of kaempferol were associated with improved insulin secretory function and synthesis in beta-cells and human islets. These findings provide evidence that kaempferol may be a naturally occurring anti-diabetic compound by protecting pancreatic beta-cell survival and function in a hostile environment that would otherwise lead to type 2 diabetes.
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