In type 1 diabetes (T1D) β cell mass is markedly reduced by autoimmunity. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) results from inadequate β cell mass and function that can no longer compensate for insulin resistance. The reduction of β cell mass in T2D may result from increased cell death and/or inadequate birth through replication and neogenesis. Reduction in mass allows glucose levels to rise, which places β cells in an unfamiliar hyperglycemic environment, leading to marked changes in their phenotype and a dramatic loss of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS), which worsens as glucose levels climb. Toxic effects of glucose on β cells (glucotoxicity) appear to be the culprit. This dysfunctional insulin secretion can be reversed when glucose levels are lowered by treatment, a finding with therapeutic significance. Restoration of β cell mass in both types of diabetes could be accomplished by either β cell regeneration or transplantation. Learning more about the relationships between β cell mass, turnover, and function and finding ways to restore β cell mass are among the most urgent priorities for diabetes research.
© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.