Insulitis and β-cell mass in the natural history of type 1 diabetes

Martha Campbell-Thompson, Ann Fu, John S. Kaddis, Clive Wasserfall, Desmond A. Schatz, Alberto Pugliese, Mark A. Atkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

166 Scopus citations


Descriptions of insulitis in human islets throughout the natural history of type 1 diabetes are limited. We determined insulitis frequency (the percent of islets displaying insulitis to total islets), infiltrating leukocyte subtypes, and β-cell and α-cell mass in pancreata recovered from organ donors with type 1 diabetes (n = 80), as well as from donors without diabetes, both with islet autoantibodies (AAb+, n = 18) and without islet autoantibodies (AAb2, n = 61). Insulitis was observed in four of four donors (100%) with type 1 diabetes duration of ≤1 year and two AAb+ donors (2 of 18 donors, 11%). Insulitis frequency showed a significant but limited inverse correlation with diabetes duration (r = 20.58, P = 0.01) but not with age at disease onset. Residual β-cells were observed in all type 1 diabetes donors with insulitis, while β-cell area and mass were significantly higher in type 1 diabetes donors with insulitis compared with those without insulitis. Insulitis affected 33% of insulin+ islets compared with 2% of insulin2 islets in donors with type 1 diabetes. A significant correlation was observed between insulitis frequency and CD45+, CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, and CD20+ cell numbers within the insulitis (r = 0.53-0.73, P = 0.004-0.04), but not CD68+ or CD11c+ cells. The presence of β-cells as well as insulitis several years after diagnosis in children and young adults suggests that the chronicity of islet autoimmunity extends well into the postdiagnosis period. This information should aid considerations of therapeutic strategies seeking type 1 diabetes prevention and reversal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-731
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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