In type 1 diabetes, autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta-cells has been attributed to cytokines released from infiltrating immunocytes. Exposure of isolated islets to cytokines leads to nitric oxide (NO) production, which can damage beta-cells. Because ductal cells are closely associated with human beta-cells, we examined whether they can contribute to this process. Isolated human ductal cells were cultured for 48 h with various cytokines. The combination of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) plus interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) increased nitric oxide production 12-fold while stimulating mRNA expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). In this condition, 10-20% of cells positive for the cytokeratin-19 duct marker also stained positive for iNOS protein, whereas no positive cells were found in control preparations. Comparison of the magnitude of iNOS mRNA expression and nitric oxide production in these cells with that in isolated human islets suggests that >50% of total islet nitric oxide production might originate from associated ductal cells. It is concluded that ductal cells are a potential source of nitric oxide production in human islets infiltrated by cytokine-releasing immunocytes.

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