Increased evidence suggests that apoptosis is the main mode of beta-cell death in early type 1 diabetes. Cytokines mediate beta-cell apoptosis, and in this article, we discuss some of the cytokine-modified genes that may contribute to beta-cell survival or death. The gene encoding for the inducible form of nitric oxide synthase is induced by interleukin (IL)-1beta or IL-1beta plus gamma-interferon in rodent and human islets, respectively. This leads to nitric oxide (NO) formation, which contributes to a major extent to beta-cell necrosis and to a minor extent to the process of beta-cell apoptosis. The main mode of cell death induced by cytokines in human beta-cells is apoptosis, whereas cytokines lead to both necrosis and apoptosis in rat and mouse beta-cells. It is suggested that the necrotic component in rodent islets is due to NO-induced mitochondrial impairment and consequent decreased ATP production. Human islets, possessing better antioxidant defenses, are able to preserve glucose oxidation and ATP production, and can thus complete the apoptotic program after the death signal delivered by cytokines. We propose that this death signal results from cytokine-induced parallel and/or sequential changes in the expression of multiple proapoptotic and prosurvival genes. The identity of these "gene modules" and of the transcription factors regulating them remains to be established.

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