Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Prevent the Deleterious Effects of Palmitate and High Glucose on Human Pancreatic β-Cell Turnover and Function

  1. Kathrin Maedler1,
  2. José Oberholzer2,
  3. Pascal Bucher2,
  4. Giatgen A. Spinas1 and
  5. Marc Y. Donath1
  1. 1Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland
  2. 2Division of Surgical Research, Department of Surgery, University of Geneva Medical Center, Geneva, Switzerland


    Glucotoxicity and lipotoxicity contribute to the impaired β-cell function observed in type 2 diabetes. Here we examine the effect of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids at different glucose concentrations on human β-cell turnover and secretory function. Exposure of cultured human islets to saturated fatty acid and/or to an elevated glucose concentration for 4 days increased β-cell DNA fragmentation and decreased β-cell proliferation. In contrast, the monounsaturated palmitoleic acid or oleic acid did not affect DNA fragmentation and induced β-cell proliferation. Moreover, each monounsaturated fatty acid prevented the deleterious effects of both palmitic acid and high glucose concentration. The cell-permeable ceramide analogue C2-ceramide mimicked both the palmitic acid-induced β-cell apoptosis and decrease in proliferation. Furthermore, the ceramide synthetase inhibitor fumonisin B1 blocked the deleterious effects of palmitic acid on β-cell turnover. In addition, palmitic acid decreased Bcl-2 expression and induced release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria into the cytosol, which was prevented by fumonisin B1 and by oleic acid. Finally, each monounsaturated fatty acid improved β-cell secretory function that was reduced by palmitic acid and by high glucose. Thus, in human islets, the saturated palmitic acid and elevated glucose concentration induce β-cell apoptosis, decrease β-cell proliferation, and impair β-cell function, which can be prevented by monounsaturated fatty acids. The deleterious effect of palmitic acid is mediated via formation of ceramide and activation of the apoptotic mitochondrial pathway, whereas Bcl-2 may contribute to the protective effect of monounsaturated fatty acids.


    • Address correspondence and reprint requests to Marc Y. Donath, MD, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Department of Medicine, University Hospital, CH-8091 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail: marc.donath{at}

      Received for publication 13 June 2002 and accepted in revised form 21 November 2002.

      FFA, free fatty acids; TUNEL, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling.

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