Type 2 diabetes is characterized by impaired insulin secretion. Some but not all studies suggest that a decrease in β-cell mass contributes to this. We examined pancreatic tissue from 124 autopsies: 91 obese cases (BMI >27 kg/m2; 41 with type 2 diabetes, 15 with impaired fasting glucose [IFG], and 35 nondiabetic subjects) and 33 lean cases (BMI <25 kg/m2; 16 type 2 diabetic and 17 nondiabetic subjects). We measured relative β-cell volume, frequency of β-cell apoptosis and replication, and new islet formation from exocrine ducts (neogenesis). Relative β-cell volume was increased in obese versus lean nondiabetic cases (P = 0.05) through the mechanism of increased neogenesis (P < 0.05). Obese humans with IFG and type 2 diabetes had a 40% (P < 0.05) and 63% (P < 0.01) deficit and lean cases of type 2 diabetes had a 41% deficit (P < 0.05) in relative β-cell volume compared with nondiabetic obese and lean cases, respectively. The frequency of β-cell replication was very low in all cases and no different among groups. Neogenesis, while increased with obesity, was comparable in obese type 2 diabetic, IFG, or nondiabetic subjects and in lean type 2 diabetic or nondiabetic subjects. However, the frequency of β-cell apoptosis was increased 10-fold in lean and 3-fold in obese cases of type 2 diabetes compared with their respective nondiabetic control group (P < 0.05). We conclude that β-cell mass is decreased in type 2 diabetes and that the mechanism underlying this is increased β-cell apoptosis. Since the major defect leading to a decrease in β-cell mass in type 2 diabetes is increased apoptosis, while new islet formation and β-cell replication are normal, therapeutic approaches designed to arrest apoptosis could be a significant new development in the management of type 2 diabetes, because this approach might actually reverse the disease to a degree rather than just palliate glycemia.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Peter C. Butler, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, 1333 San Pablo St., BMT-B11, Los Angeles, CA 90033. E-mail:.
Received for publication 19 July 2002 and accepted in revised form 9 October 2002.
FPG, fasting plasma glucose; IAPP, islet amyloid polypeptide; IFG, impaired fasting glucose.