Nitric oxide has been implicated as one possible mediator of interleukin-1β (IL-1)-induced inhibition of insulin secretion and islet cell damage. The aim of this study was to define the effects of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF) and interferon-γ (IFN) on nitric oxide production, insulin secretion, and DNA damage in islets from unweaned rats. Treatment of islets with 0.5–500 U/ml of either TNF or IFN on their own inhibited glucose-stimulated insulin secretion in a dose-dependent manner (minimum effective dose 5 U/ml). In combination, the cytokines exerted a pronounced synergistic inhibitory effect on secretion and were equipotent at causing a significant and concentration-dependent increase in culture medium nitrite levels, islet cyclic GMP formation, and DNA damage. Used alone or in combination, TNF and IFN significantly enhanced the activity of inducible nitric oxide synthase as determined by measuring the conversion of 14C-labeled arginine to 14C-labeled citrulline and nitric oxide. Use of arginine-free medium, without or with NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, resulted in inhibition of nitrite formation by 5–1,000 U/ml IFN + TNF and partial restoration of the insulin secretory response to glucose. Treatment of rat islets with increasing doses of TNF + IFN (5, 50, and 500 U/ml) resulted in a progressive increase in DNA damage, as shown by the comet assay, which detects DNA strand breaks in individual islet cells. The DNA damage caused by an intermediate concentration (50 U/ml) of TNF + IFN was comparable to that generated by IL-1 when used at 20 U/ml. We conclude that TNF and IFN induce nitric oxide formation, which partially inhibits glucose-induced insulin secretion and causes significant DNA strand breakage, but that as cytokine concentrations increase, non-nitric-oxide-mediated events predominate.

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