Toxoplasma gondii as a possible causative pathogen of type-1 diabetes mellitus: Evidence from case-control and experimental studies

Exp Parasitol. 2018 May;188:93-101. doi: 10.1016/j.exppara.2018.04.007. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Toxoplasma gondii is the causative parasite of an important worldwide disease. This obligate intracellular parasite can infect and replicate inside any nucleated cells including those of pancreas. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and is responsible for controlling blood glucose concentration. Deficiency of insulin production accounts for the occurrence of type-1 diabetes mellitus (T1D). Thus, theoretically, toxoplasmosis could play a possible role in the development of T1D. However, the studies on this theory are still insufficient; therefore, this work was designed. Interestingly, in the case-control study, seropositivity of anti-Toxoplasma IgG was significantly higher among T1D (86.37%) in comparison with T2D (66.67%) and the control group (60%). Moreover, the odd ratio of chronic toxoplasmosis was 4.2 folds higher among T1D patients than among controls. The experimental study included acute and chronic Me49 T. gondii infected mice groups in addition to a control group. Pathological examination revealed the presence of T. gondii zoites adjacent to the islets of Langerhans and in pancreatic parenchyma of acutely infected mice. With chronic infection, there was a significant reduction of islets number and sizes in association with grade-1 insulitis. Additionally, the immunohistochemical study showed significant infiltration of the islets of chronically infected mice by CD8+ and CD45+ immune cells. In contrary to the control group, the islets of the chronic group showed significantly higher expression of the apoptotic marker caspase-3 and a significantly lower expression of the proliferation marker Ki69. Finally, a significant reduction of insulin expression in the islets of chronic infection group was detected in association with a significant increase in serum glucose concentrations; however, the establishment of diabetes did not occur throughout this work. Thus, this study presents an evidence for the probable role of chronic toxoplasmosis in the development of T1D which should be considered in further studies.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Insulin; Pancreas; T. gondii; diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / parasitology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Islets of Langerhans / parasitology
  • Islets of Langerhans / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Specific Pathogen-Free Organisms
  • Toxoplasma / pathogenicity*
  • Toxoplasmosis / complications*


  • Blood Glucose