Insulitis in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes

Pediatr Diabetes. 2016 Jul;17 Suppl 22(Suppl Suppl 22):31-6. doi: 10.1111/pedi.12388.


Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which autoreactive T-cells and inflammation cause severe loss of pancreatic beta cells. Insulitis, the pathologic hallmark of T1D, is an inflammatory lesion consisting of immune cell infiltrates around and within the islets. New research initiatives and methodologies are advancing our understanding of pancreas pathology. Studies have revealed the predominant cellular types that infiltrate the islets, novel molecular aspects associated with insulitis, and the coexistence of additional pathological abnormalities. While insulitis is a critical element of T1D pathology and pathogenesis, it is typically present only in a modest proportion of islets at any given time, even at diagnosis, with overall limited relation to disease duration. Thus, the relative importance of insulitis as a determining factor of diabetes symptoms at disease onset appears to have been overestimated; growing evidence also shows that beta cell loss at diagnosis is more modest than previously thought. Thus, the sole targeting of the immune system may not afford full therapeutic efficacy if dysfunction affects beta cells that are not under immune attack and this is a key contributor to symptoms. Combination therapies that promote both immunoregulation and address beta cell dysfunction should be more effective in treating this chronic disease process. It remains a major goal to clarify the relation of insulitis with the dynamics of beta cell loss and coexisting mechanisms of dysfunction, according to clinical stage; such improved understanding is key to design therapeutic strategies that target multiple pathogenic mechanisms.

Keywords: autoimmunity; beta cell; insulitis; pancreas; type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmunity
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology*