Glucolipotoxicity Alters Insulin Secretion via Epigenetic Changes in Human Islets

Diabetes. 2019 Oct;68(10):1965-1974. doi: 10.2337/db18-0900. Epub 2019 Aug 16.


Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is characterized by insufficient insulin secretion and elevated glucose levels, often in combination with high levels of circulating fatty acids. Long-term exposure to high levels of glucose or fatty acids impair insulin secretion in pancreatic islets, which could partly be due to epigenetic alterations. We studied the effects of high concentrations of glucose and palmitate combined for 48 h (glucolipotoxicity) on the transcriptome, the epigenome, and cell function in human islets. Glucolipotoxicity impaired insulin secretion, increased apoptosis, and significantly (false discovery rate <5%) altered the expression of 1,855 genes, including 35 genes previously implicated in T2D by genome-wide association studies (e.g., TCF7L2 and CDKN2B). Additionally, metabolic pathways were enriched for downregulated genes. Of the differentially expressed genes, 1,469 also exhibited altered DNA methylation (e.g., CDK1, FICD, TPX2, and TYMS). A luciferase assay showed that increased methylation of CDK1 directly reduces its transcription in pancreatic β-cells, supporting the idea that DNA methylation underlies altered expression after glucolipotoxicity. Follow-up experiments in clonal β-cells showed that knockdown of FICD and TPX2 alters insulin secretion. Together, our novel data demonstrate that glucolipotoxicity changes the epigenome in human islets, thereby altering gene expression and possibly exacerbating the secretory defect in T2D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Secretion / drug effects*
  • Insulin Secretion / physiology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / drug effects
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Palmitic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Palmitic Acid
  • Glucose