An update on cytokines in the pathogenesis of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus

Diabetes Metab Rev. 1998 Jun;14(2):129-51. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-0895(199806)14:2<129::aid-dmr208>;2-v.


Correlation studies between cytokines expressed in islets and autoimmune diabetes development in NOD mice and BB rats have demonstrated that beta-cell destructive insulitis is associated with increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1, TNF alpha, and IFN alpha) and type 1 cytokines (IFN gamma, TNF beta, IL-2 and IL-12), whereas non-destructive (benign) insulitis is associated with increased expression of type 2 cytokines (IL-4 and IL-10) and the type 3 cytokine (TGF beta). Cytokines (IL-1, TNF alpha, TNF beta and IFN gamma) may be directly cytotoxic to beta-cells by inducing nitric oxide and oxygen free radicals in the beta-cells. In addition, cytokines may sensitize beta-cells to T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity in vivo by upregulating MHC class I expression on the beta-cells (an action of IFN gamma), and inducing Fas (CD95) expression on beta-cells (actions of IL-1, and possibly TNF alpha and IFN gamma). Transgenic expression of cytokines in beta-cells of non-diabetes-prone mice and NOD mice has suggested pathogenic roles for IFN alpha, IFN gamma, IL-2 and IL-10 in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) development, and protective roles for IL-4, IL-6 and TNF alpha. Systemic administrations of a wide variety of cytokines can prevent IDDM development in NOD mice and/or BB rats; however, a given cytokine may retard or accelerate IDDM development, depending on the dose and frequency of administration, and the age and the diabetes-prone animal model studied (NOD mouse or BB rat). Islet-reactive CD4+ T-cell lines and clones that adoptively transfer IDDM into young NOD mice have a Th1 phenotype (IFN gamma-producing), but other islet-specific Th1 clones that produce TGF beta can adoptively transfer protection against IDDM in NOD mice. NOD mice with targeted deletions of IL-12 and IFN gamma genes still develop IDDM, albeit delayed and slightly less often. In contrast, post-natal deletions of IL-12 and IFN gamma, also IL-1, TNF alpha, IL-2, and IL-6--by systemic administrations of neutralizing antibodies, soluble receptors and receptor antagonists, and receptor-targeted cytotoxic drugs--significantly decrease IDDM incidence in NOD mice and/or BB rats. These cytokine deletion studies have provided the best evidence for pathologic roles for proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1, TNF alpha, and IL-6) and type 1 cytokines (IFN gamma, IL-2 and IL-12) in IDDM development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Interferons / pharmacology
  • Interferons / physiology
  • Interleukins / pharmacology
  • Interleukins / physiology
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred BB
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interferons