Nitric oxide (NO), synthesized by the inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), has been proposed as a mediator of immune-induced beta-cell destruction in type 1 diabetes. To evaluate the role of iNOS for beta-cell dysfunction and death, we investigated the sensitivity of beta-cells from mice genetically deficient in this enzyme (iNOS-/-, background C57BL/6x129SvEv, H-2b) both to interleukin (IL)-1beta-induced beta-cell dysfunction in vitro and to multiple low-dose streptozotocin (MLDS)-induced diabetes in vivo. Exposure of islets isolated from C57BL/6 mice to IL-1beta for 24 h in vitro resulted in an induction of iNOS mRNA expression, an increase in nitrite formation, and a decrease in insulin release and proinsulin biosynthesis as compared with untreated C57BL/6 islets. IL-1beta failed to induce iNOS mRNA expression and increase nitrite formation by islets isolated from iNOS knockout mice (iNOS-/-), and no impairment in islet function was observed. The iNOS-/- mice showed a reduced incidence of hyperglycemia after treatment with MLDS as compared with wild-type C57BL/6 (H-2b) and 129 SvEv (H-2b) mice. On day 21 after the first streptozotocin (STZ) injection, 75% of the C57BL/6 mice and 100% of the 129SvEv mice had blood glucose levels >11 mmol/l, whereas the corresponding number for iNOS-/- mice was only 23%. This protection was not due to a delay in the onset of hyperglycemia, since no increase in number of hyperglycemic iNOS-/- mice was observed when the animals were followed up to 42 days. Moreover, islets isolated from iNOS-/- mice were susceptible to the in vitro deleterious effects of STZ. In conclusion, the present study provides evidence that iNOS may contribute to beta-cell damage after exposure to IL-1beta in vitro and treatment with MLDS in vivo.

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