Identification of reversible and druggable pathways to improve beta-cell function and survival in Type 2 diabetes

Islets. 2023 Dec 31;15(1):2165368. doi: 10.1080/19382014.2023.2165368.


Targeting β-cell failure could prevent, delay or even partially reverse Type 2 diabetes. However, development of such drugs is limited as the molecular pathogenesis is complex and incompletely understood. Further, while β-cell failure can be modeled experimentally, only some of the molecular changes will be pathogenic. Therefore, we used a novel approach to identify molecular pathways that are not only changed in a diabetes-like state but also are reversible and can be targeted by drugs. INS1E cells were cultured in high glucose (HG, 20 mM) for 72 h or HG for an initial 24 h followed by drug addition (exendin-4, metformin and sodium salicylate) for the remaining 48 h. RNAseq (Illumina TruSeq), gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) and pathway analysis (using Broad Institute, Reactome, KEGG and Biocarta platforms) were used to identify changes in molecular pathways. HG decreased function and increased apoptosis in INS1E cells with drugs partially reversing these effects. HG resulted in upregulation of 109 pathways while drug treatment downregulated 44 pathways with 21 pathways in common. Interestingly, while hyperglycemia extensively upregulated metabolic pathways, they were not altered with drug treatment, rather pathways involved in the cell cycle featured more heavily. GSEA for hyperglycemia identified many known pathways validating the applicability of our cell model to human disease. However, only a fraction of these pathways were downregulated with drug treatment, highlighting the importance of considering druggable pathways. Overall, this provides a powerful approach and resource for identifying appropriate targets for the development of β-cell drugs.

Keywords: Transcriptomics; Type 2 diabetes; beta-cell; gene expression; gene set enrichment analysis; pharmacology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells*
  • Metformin* / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Metformin

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Geelong Community Foundation.