Inflammatory Responses

Researchers identify mechanism responsible for inflammation in type 2 diabetes patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Researchers have demonstrated that certain T cells (white blood cells that are part of the immune system) require input from another type of white blood cells called monocytes in order to maintain their pro-inflammatory response in people with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

The researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) also showed, for the first time, how a loss in homeostasis in this group of T cells most likely promotes chronic inflammation associated with T2D. That is, the chronic inflammation is likely due to a loss in the healthy balance of T cells in the immune system.

Barbara Nikolajczyk, PhD, an associate professor of microbiology and medicine at BUSM, is the senior author of the study, which is currently featured in an online edition of the Journal of Immunology.

T2D is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the body has high levels of glucose in the blood due to the lack of insulin or the body’s inability to make the insulin work properly, which causes high blood suger levels. The incidence of T2D continues to rise at alarming rates in both children and adults. According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million people in the United States have diabetes, while another 57 million have pre-diabetes.

Previous research done in mice has shown that T cells play a critical role in the development of insulin resistance in response to a high fat diet, often leading to T2D. Additional findings indicate that T cells exhibit a pro-inflammatory response more often than an anti-inflammatory response.

Working with human T cells, the team observed that in order for T cells to exhibit the pro-inflammatory response, they required constant interaction with monocytes, indicating that monocytes play an indirect role in chronic inflammation and T2D.

While it is not known what the homeostatic balance levels are between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory T cells, this study indicates the need to restore a balance in order to halt chronic inflammation and T2D.

“The true importance of our observations is the indication that altering balance among immune system cells could be a fundamentally novel treatment for T2D-associated inflammation and perhaps insulin resistance,” said Nikolajczyk.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

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Review Date: 
December 22, 2010