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BACKGROUND: Islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP) is deposited as amyloid in the islets of Langerhans in type 2 diabetes. The mechanism behind the formation of the cytotoxic fibrils is unknown. Islet amyloid develops in a mouse IAPP null mouse strain that expresses human IAPP (+hIAPP/-mIAPP) after 9 months on a high-fat diet. Herein we investigate the effect that individual free fatty acids (FFAs) exert on formation of amyloid-like fibrils from synthetic IAPP and the effects of FFAs on IAPP polymerization in +hIAPP/-mIAPP islets cultivated in vitro. MATERIALS AND METHODS: In the study myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid were used together with albumin. Thioflavin T (Th T) assay was used for quantification of amyloid-like fibrils. Islets were isolated from the +hIAPP/-mIAPP transgenic strain and cultured in the presence of the FFAs for 2 days. Immuno-electron microscopy was used for evaluation. RESULTS: The Th T assay showed that all studied FFAs potentiated fibril formation but that myristic acid revealed the highest capacity. In some cells from cultured islets, intragranular aggregates were present. These aggregates had a filamentous appearance and labeled with antibodies against IAPP. In some cells cultured in the presence of linoleic acid, large amounts of intracellular amyloid were present. Earlier, this has not been observed after such a short incubation period. CONCLUSIONS: Our studies suggest that FFAs can potentiate amyloid formation in vitro, probably without being integrated in the fibril. Cultivation of +hIAPP/-mIAPP transgenic mouse islets with FFAs results in altered morphology of the secretory granules with appearance of IAPP- immunoreactive fibrillar material. We suggest that such fibrillar material may seed extracellular amyloid formation after exocytosis.