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Type 1 Diabetes: Researchers Discover a Triggering Factor in Mice

Identifying the triggering factor of type 1 diabetes in mice may help reduce the incidence of the condition.


The prevalence and incidence rate of type 1 diabetes has been increasing. And experts have no clue why is this so. However, they are leaving no stone unturned in finding the exact trigger that causes type 1 diabetes.

According to a new study conducted on mice, there is a trigger called “phantom switch” that may allow the immune system to attack and destroy insulin, leading to type 1 diabetes.

The study was published in the journal Science Immunology.

Researchers hope that if this discovery proves true in human beings, it could help in the early detection and prevention of type 1 diabetes.

More than 12.5 million Americans have type 1 diabetes. People have to be very careful because their body does not produce insulin, an essential hormone that helps the body to absorb glucose for energy purpose.

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An old study, which was conducted nearly four decades ago, found that renegade human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is the trigger of type 1 diabetes. The HLA system is a cluster of proteins that are located on the cell membranes. These HLAs order the immune system to fight foreign substances and organisms.

The old study found that these proteins were adhering to insulin and drawing toward T cells that are related to the immune system, eventually destroying beta cells that secrete insulin in the pancreas.

However, the new study has been able to find out a likely trigger, of course, in mice. The researchers conducted experiments on overweight and non-diabetic mice and examined their blood samples for more than five years.

Lead study author Dr. Luc Teyton, said, “By using single-cell technologies to study the prediabetic phase of [the] disease, we have been able to mechanistically link specific anti-insulin T cells with the autoimmune response seen in type 1 diabetes.”

The researchers revealed that there is a specific switch associated with CD4+ T cells. The T cells reacted to the HLAs and attacked insulin when this switch was active. The authors explained that this switch existed for a time being and caused insulin destruction; however, after that, it disappeared altogether. The switch disappears altogether when a person develops the symptoms of diabetes. They explained that this could be the reason why scientists were not able to discover the triggering factor of type 1 diabetes.