Impaired development of pancreatic beta-cell mass is a primary event during the progression to diabetes in the GK rat

Diabetologia. 1997 Aug;40(8):916-25. doi: 10.1007/s001250050768.


In the endocrine pancreas of the GK rat, a genetic model of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), it is not clear whether the histopathological changes reported up to now are related to the pathogenesis of hyperglycaemia or whether they occur secondarily to metabolic alterations. Using GK rats from the Paris colony, our study chronicles for the first time the pathophysiologic changes that occur in the GK pancreas from the late fetal period (day 21.5) until adult age (18 weeks). As compared to Wistar controls, GK fetuses exhibited higher plasma glucose level, lower plasma insulin level and normal plasma glucagon level. Their pancreatic insulin content and the relative volume and the total mass of their beta cells were sharply decreased, representing only 23, 38 and 23% of control values, respectively. During the period from 4 days to 14 days after birth, GK neonates exhibited normal basal plasma glucose and glucagon levels despite decreased plasma insulin level. Their pancreatic insulin content represented only 31-40% of values found in the age-related control pancreases and their total beta-cell mass was only 35% on day 4, 30% on day 7 and 37% on day 14. The adult diabetic GK rats exhibited higher basal plasma glucose and insulin levels while their basal plasma glucagon level remained normal. Their pancreatic insulin content and the total beta-cell mass remained decreased, representing only 32% and 47% of control values, respectively. Moreover, the adult GK pancreases exhibited noticeable alteration in the architecture of the large islet subpopulation which displayed considerable fibrosis with clusters of beta cells widely separated from each other by strands of connective tissue. Concerning the development of alpha cells in the GK rats, their relative volume was found to be normal during fetal and early neonatal periods. It was found to be moderately decreased (representing 64-67% of corresponding control values) in 14-day-old neonates and adult GK rats. Our findings demonstrate that in the GK rat, the deficit of total beta-cell mass as observed in the adult animal is related to impaired beta-cell development. The restriction of the beta-cell mass must be considered as a primary and crucial event in the sequence leading to overt diabetes in this NIDDM model.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Glucagon / blood
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Insulin / analysis*
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / chemistry
  • Islets of Langerhans / embryology
  • Islets of Langerhans / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Blood Glucose
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Insulin
  • Glucagon