Engineered insulinoma cell lines may represent an alternative to isolated islets for transplantation therapy of type 1 diabetes. Success of this approach may require development of cell lines that can withstand cytokine-mediated damage. To this end, we have cultured INS-1 insulinoma cells in increasing concentrations of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) + gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma), with approximate weekly iterations over an 8-week period. Based on the C,N diphenyl-N'-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium+ ++ bromide (MTT) viability assay, the selected cells, termed INS-1res, were 100% viable after 5 days of treatment with 10 ng/ml of IL-1beta. These cells were also 78 +/- 1.2% viable after 5 days of exposure to the combination of 10 ng/ml IL-1beta and 100 U/ml IFN-gamma, whereas parental INS-1 cells treated in the same manner were only 0.3 +/- 0.03% viable. INS-1res cells were also resistant to treatment with supernatants from activated rat peripheral blood mononuclear cells, whereas only 20% of parental INS-1 cells survived such treatment. The resistance to IL-1beta conferred by this procedure was stable, whereas the partial resistance to IFN-gamma was transient but reinducible by culture in the presence of cytokines. Stable transfection of INS-1res cells with a plasmid containing the human insulin cDNA and expansion of the transfected colonies in the absence of cytokines produced cell lines that were on average more resistant to IL-1beta + IFN-gamma (53 +/- 11%) than similarly transfected clones derived from parental INS-1 cells (15 +/- 7%). Importantly, several INS-1res-derived clones retained the capacity to secrete insulin in response to glucose concentrations over the normal physiological range. With regard to the mechanism by which selection was conferred, we found normal levels of IFN-gamma receptor mRNA, but a 60% reduction in expression of the IL-1 receptor type I (IL-1RI) in INS-1res cells compared with parental INS-1 cells. IL-1beta signaling through p38 MAP kinase was found to be normal in INS-1res cells, suggesting that their expression of IL-1RI is sufficient to maintain cytokine action. However, normal IL-1beta-mediated translocation of NF-kappaB and induction of inducible nitric oxide synthase expression and nitric oxide production was severely impaired in the INS-1res cell lines, suggesting a mechanism for the IL-1beta resistance. In sum, this study defines a strategy for isolation of cytokine-resistant beta-cell lines and provides a new system for studying the mechanisms by which such resistance can be achieved.