Diabetes starts with the nerves | Science and life

Nerve impulses from the sympathetic nervous system signal the immune system to attack the pancreas.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that synthesize insulin – the so-called beta cells. Without insulin, the cells of the body do not absorb glucose, whose blood levels rise dramatically. All this leads to a number of severe physiological consequences.

Islet of cells with insulin-synthesizing cells of the mouse pancreas. Immune cells are colored green, sympathetic nerves purple. (Photo: Gustaf Christofferson / University Uppsala)

It is still not entirely clear why the immune system suddenly starts an autoimmune attack on the pancreas. It is assumed that environmental factors, and genetic characteristics, and a viral infection, and some peculiarities in the blood supply to the gland can play a role here.

Researchers from Institute of Immunology in La Jolla and Uppsala University write in Science Advancesthat the direct reason for the immune war against the cells of the pancreas may be a nerve signal arriving in the gland through the sympathetic nervous system. It is part of the autonomic nervous system that regulates a wide variety of internal organs. The sympathetic nervous system, in particular, enhances metabolism and stimulates cardiac activity, especially in stressful situations.

The authors of the work experimented with mice predisposed to type 1 diabetes. In these mice, in one way or another, the nerves of the sympathetic system coming to the pancreas were turned off. As a result, the immune cells seemed to cease seeing the beta cells of the gland. That is, the nerve impulse served as a kind of signal rocket for an autoimmune attack. Obviously, the whole point was that immune cells have receptors for neurotransmitters. Neurons release neurotransmitters that trap immune cells and mislead the neurotransmitter signal.

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Perhaps these results will help create some kind of medical treatment that prevents both type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. Let the immune system remain with increased irritability and readiness to attack its own – the main thing is that it does not receive a signal for such an attack.


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