Type 1 diabetes in Sardinia: facts and hypotheses in the context of worldwide epidemiological data

Acta Diabetol. 2017 Jan;54(1):9-17. doi: 10.1007/s00592-016-0909-2. Epub 2016 Sep 17.


Type 1 diabetes (T1D) results from an autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing beta cells that requires lifelong insulin treatment. While significant advances have been achieved in treatment, prevention of complications and quality of life in diabetic people, the identification of environmental triggers of the disease is far more complex. The island of Sardinia has the second highest incidence of T1D in the world (45/100,000), right after Finland (64.2/100,000). The genetic background as well as the environment of the island's inhabitants makes it an ideal region for investigating environmental, immunological and genetic factors related to the etiopathogenesis of T1D. Several epidemiological studies, conducted over the years, have shown that exposures to important known environmental risk factors have changed over time, including nutritional factors, pollution, chemicals, toxins and infectious diseases in early life. These environmental risk factors might be involved in T1D pathogenesis, as they might initiate autoimmunity or accelerate and precipitate an already ongoing beta cell destruction. In terms of environmental factors, Sardinia is also particular in terms of the incidence of infection with Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP) that recent studies have linked to T1D in the Sardinian population. Furthermore, the unique geochemical profile of Sardinia, with its particular density of heavy metals, leads to the assumption that exposure of the Sardinian population to heavy metals could also affect T1D incidence. These factors lead us to hypothesize that T1D incidence in Sardinia may be affected by the exposure to multifactorial agents, such as MAP, common viruses and heavy metals.

Keywords: Epidemiology; Incidence; Registry; Sardinia; Type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / genetics
  • Environment
  • Environmental Pollution
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors


  • Metals, Heavy