Apoptosis is a hallmark of β-cell death in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Understanding how apoptosis contributes to β-cell turnover may lead to strategies to prevent progression of diabetes. A key mediator of apoptosis, mitochondrial function, and cell survival is apoptosis inducing factor (AIF). In the present study, we investigated the role of AIF on β-cell mass and survival using the Harlequin (Hq) mutant mice, which are hypomorphic for AIF.
Immunohistochemical evaluation of pancreata from Hq mutant mice displayed much smaller islets compared to wild-type mice (WT). Analysis of β-cell mass in these mice revealed a greater than 4-fold reduction in β-cell mass together with an 8-fold increase in β-cell apoptosis. Analysis of cell cycle dynamics, using BrdU pulse as a marker for cells in S-phase, did not detect significant differences in the frequency of β-cells in S-phase. In contrast, double staining for phosphorylated Histone H3 and insulin showed a 3-fold increase in β-cells in the G2 phase in Hq mutant mice, but no differences in M-phase compared to WT mice. This suggests that the β-cells from Hq mutant mice are arrested in the G2 phase and are unlikely to complete the cell cycle. β-cells from Hq mutant mice display increased sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide-induced apoptosis, which was confirmed in human islets in which AIF was depleted by siRNA. AIF deficiency had no effect on glucose stimulated insulin secretion, but the impaired effect of hydrogen peroxide on β-cell function was potentiated.
Our results indicate that AIF is essential for maintaining β-cell mass and for oxidative stress response. A decrease in the oxidative phosphorylation capacity may counteract the development of diabetes, despite its deleterious effects on β-cell survival.