Aspects of the Pre-Diabetic Period in Type 1 Diabetes
Abstract: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease characterized by insulin deficiency, due to immune-mediated destruction of beta cells. Current knowledge regarding the period preceding disease onset comes, to a large extent, from studying risk cohorts based on relatives of T1D-patients, as they have an increased disease risk. Among T1D patients in general, however, few have the disease in their immediate family. It is therefore important to study risk cohorts from the general population as well. An ongoing autoimmune reaction can often be seen in the blood long before disease onset, by detection of autoantibodies directed towards beta cell antigens. By autoantibody screening among participants in the ABIS (All Babies in the South-east of Sweden) cohort, we could identify a group of children from the general population with increased risk for T1D, positive for multiple autoantibodies. They were enrolled in a 2-year prospective follow-up aiming to characterize the prediabetic period and to identify factors indicative of progression/non-progression to T1D. We assessed glucose homeostasis and autoantibody titers over time, and searched for risk-biomarkers by analyzing the expression of immune-related genes (Th1-Th2-Th3) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from these children, in comparison to healthy children and newly diagnosed T1D patients. In the same groups we also compared serum micro RNA (miRNA) profiles, knowing that miRNA molecules have desirable biomarker properties. We found that two specific autoantibodies, IA2A and ZnT8A, were detected at higher concentrations in risk-individuals who progressed to overt T1D during or after the follow-up period, compared to those who still have not. We also observed disturbed glucose homeostasis long before onset in the progressors, but it was seen among those who remain symptom free as well. Further, we found support for the possible role of insulin resistance as an accelerator of the disease process. For gene expression and serum miRNA, few differences were observed between risk-individuals and healthy children overall. However, for PBMC gene expression and serum miRNA both, there were associations to beta cell function and glucose homeostasis, and for miRNA also to islet autoantibodies. Although specific profiles for prediction of disease onset or identification of risk-individuals could not be found, these results are interesting and deserve to be evaluated further. As part of another sub-study within ABIS, the effects of physical activity on glucose homeostasis were assessed in healthy schoolchildren. The level of physical activity, measured by pedometers, was related to insulin resistance and beta cell-stress, and decreased physical activity was associated with increased insulin resistance and load on the insulin-producing beta cells, already at school-age.
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