Scientists Find That a Single Gene Can Convert Pancreatic Alpha Cells Into Betas in Lab Mice

A single gene, called Pax4, can change alpha cells, on left, into insulin-producing beta cells, on right, in lab mice.

Aug 13, 2009

There's a gene whose name you should remember because it could mark a crucial point in the war on type 1 diabetes.

It's called Pax4, and European and U.S. researchers say that when it is forced on the alpha cells of diabetic mice, the cells change their identity and become functioning beta cells-the producers of insulin.

(Alpha cells produce glucagon, a hormone that makes the liver release glucose. In people with type 1 diabetes, whose beta cells have been destroyed or almost completely impaired, there is no insulin to counter the effects of uncontrolled glucagon.)

The researchers, drawn from institutes in France, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, as well as U.S. research centers in Tennessee, knew that Pax4 was a significant factor in insulin production. Previous studies had shown that mice born without the gene died at birth.

By "switching on" Pax4 in mice that had type 1 diabetes, scientists noted an eight-fold increase in their beta cells. As Pax4 converts alpha cells into beta cells, the body senses the loss of alphas and makes replacements. The alphas in turn convert into betas. 

Although it's a long road from experiments on lab mice to trials on humans, researchers believe that Pax4's effects make it potentially one of the most effective approaches yet to a virtual cure for type 1.

One question they will have to answer is whether the gene might induce an overproduction of beta cells. Too many beta cells are like too much of anything, not good. An overproduction of insulin could cause hypoglycemic episodes, as well as other complications.

The findings have been published in the August 7 issue of Cell.

Click Here To View Or Post Comments

Categories: Beta Cells, Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin, Research, The Cure, Type 1 Issues

Take the Diabetes Health Pump Survey
See What's Inside
Read this FREE issue now
For healthcare professionals only
  • 12th Annual Product Reference Guide
  • Insulin Syringe Chart
  • Insulin Pen Needles Chart
  • Fast-Acting Glucose
  • Sharps Disposal
  • Blood Glucose Meters Chart
  • Insulin Pumps Chart
See the entire table of contents here!

You can view the current or previous issues of Diabetes Health online, in their entirety, anytime you want.
Click Here To View

See if you qualify for our free healthcare professional magazines. Click here to start your application for Pre-Diabetes Health, Diabetes Health Pharmacist and Diabetes Health Professional.

Learn More About the Professional Subscription

Free Diabetes Health e-Newsletter

Top Rated
Print | Email | Share | Comments (3)

You May Also Be Interested In...


Posted by rosiolady on 21 August 2009

In LADA-type diabetes at least, the body seems to do this quite a bit, "reinvent" beta cells, but the problem is that the autoimmune reaction that is really the basic problem kills them again. It would be more exciting to find news in understanding and stopping autoimmune reactions, in my opinion.

Posted by Anonymous on 24 August 2009

I agree with Rosiolady. I don't think there is any evidence that Type 1 "destroys" the body's capacity to make more Beta cells. The problem is that the new ones continue to be destroyed by the immune response. Dr. Faustman has demonstrated this, albeit in mice.

- C. Hanson

Posted by Anonymous on 11 April 2010

It appears that there are several organizations or laboratories that are working on this beta cell reproducing. I have read or rec'd news from several sources on this topic.

I think this news today and previously received over the past month, is marvelous as one step leads to another and some one will find the answer to help everyone with diabetes.

It has been too slowly coming but at least it is very nice to know that work is continuing to help T1s and perhaps other types of diabetes.

Thank you, thank you.... to them all!!

Add your comments about this article below. You can add comments as a registered user or anonymously. If you choose to post anonymously your comments will be sent to our moderator for approval before they appear on this page. If you choose to post as a registered user your comments will appear instantly.

When voicing your views via the comment feature, please respect the Diabetes Health community by refraining from comments that could be considered offensive to other people. Diabetes Health reserves the right to remove comments when necessary to maintain the cordial voice of the diabetes community.

For your privacy and protection, we ask that you do not include personal details such as address or telephone number in any comments posted.

Don't have your Diabetes Health Username? Register now and add your comments to all our content.

Have Your Say...

Username: Password:
©1991-2015 Diabetes Health | Home | Privacy | Press | Advertising | Help | Contact Us | Donate | Sitemap

Diabetes Health Medical Disclaimer

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. Opinions expressed here are the opinions of writers, contributors, and commentators, and are not necessarily those of Diabetes Health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website.