Cell-Free DNA Fragments as Biomarkers of Islet β-Cell Death in Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Feb 21;22(4):2151. doi: 10.3390/ijms22042151.


Type 2 diabetes (T2D) typically occurs in the setting of obesity and insulin resistance, where hyperglycemia is associated with decreased pancreatic β-cell mass and function. Loss of β-cell mass has variably been attributed to β-cell dedifferentiation and/or death. In recent years, it has been proposed that circulating epigenetically modified DNA fragments arising from β cells might be able to report on the potential occurrence of β-cell death in diabetes. Here, we review published literature of DNA-based β-cell death biomarkers that have been evaluated in human cohorts of islet transplantation, type 1 diabetes, and obesity and type 2 diabetes. In addition, we provide new data on the applicability of one of these biomarkers (cell free unmethylated INS DNA) in adult cohorts across a spectrum from obesity to T2D, in which no significant differences were observed, and compare these findings to those previously published in youth cohorts where differences were observed. Our analysis of the literature and our own data suggest that β-cell death may occur in subsets of individuals with obesity and T2D, however a more sensitive method or refined study designs are needed to provide better alignment of sampling with disease progression events.

Keywords: C-peptide; insulin; type 1 diabetes; type 2 diabetes; β-cell biomarkers; β-cell dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Cell Death
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids