Interferon alpha impairs insulin production in human beta cells via endoplasmic reticulum stress

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41 Scopus citations


Despite substantial advances in the research exploring the pathogenesis of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), the pathophysiological mechanisms involved remain unknown. We hypothesized in this study that interferon alpha (IFNα) participates in the early stages of T1D development by triggering endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. To verify our hypothesis, human islets and human EndoC-βH1 cells were exposed to IFNα and tested for ER stress markers, glucose stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) and insulin content. IFNα treatment induced upregulation of ER stress markers including Binding immunoglobulin Protein, phospho-eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α, spliced- X-box binding protein-1, C/EBP homologous protein and activating transcription factor 4. Intriguingly, IFNα treatment did not impair GSIS but significantly decreased insulin production in both human islets and EndoC-βH1 cells. Furthermore, IFNα decreased the expression of both proinsulin convertase 1 and proinsulin convertase 2, suggesting an altered functional state of the beta cells characterized by a slower proinsulin-insulin conversion. Pretreatment of both human islets and EndoC-βH1 cells with chemical chaperones 4-phenylbutyric acid and tauroursodeoxycholic acid completely prevented IFNα effects, indicating an ER stress-mediated impairment of insulin production. We demonstrated for the first time that IFNα elicits ER stress in human beta cells providing a novel mechanistic role for this virus-induced cytokine in the development of T1D. Compounds targeting molecular processes altered in ER-stressed beta cells could represent a potential therapeutic strategy to prevent IFNα-induced beta cell dysfunction in the early onset of T1D.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-55
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Endoplasmic reticulum stress
  • Insulin
  • Interferon alpha
  • Proinsulin
  • Type 1 Diabetes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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