Clearing Senescent Cells as a Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes involves the loss of insulin-generating β-cells in the pancreas. In recent years, evidence has suggested that the accumulation of senescent cells in the pancreas - with age and with obesity - is an important contributing factor in this condition. Researchers here report on a study of senescent cell clearance in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes, finding that there doesn't appear to be any downside to trying, but that only some of the treated mice showed improvement. That is suggestive that other mechanisms derived from obesity are also relevant and important to disease progression.

Type 2 diabetes is partly characterized by decreased β-cell mass and function which have been linked to cellular senescence. Despite a low basal proliferative rate of adult β-cells, they can respond to growth stimuli, but this proliferative capacity decreases with age and correlates with increased expression of senescence effector, p16Ink4a. We hypothesized that selective deletion of p16Ink4a-positive cells would enhance the proliferative capacity of the remaining β-cells due to the elimination of the local senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP).

We aimed to investigate the effects of p16Ink4a-positive cell removal on the mass and proliferative capacity of remaining β-cells using INK-ATTAC mice as a transgenic model of senolysis. Clearance of p16Ink4a positive subpopulation was tested in mice of different ages, males and females, and with two different insulin resistance models: high-fat diet (HFD) and insulin receptor antagonist (S961).

Clearance of p16Ink4a-positive cells did not affect the overall β-cell mass. β-cell proliferative capacity negatively correlated with cellular senescence load and clearance of p16Ink4a positive cells in 1-year-old HFD mice improved β-cell function and increased proliferative capacity in a subset of animals. Single-cell sequencing revealed that the targeted p16Ink4a subpopulation of β-cells is non-proliferative and non-SASP producing whereas additional senescent subpopulations remained contributing to continued local SASP secretion. In conclusion, deletion of p16Ink4a cells did not negatively impact beta-cell mass and blood glucose under basal and HFD conditions and proliferation was restored in a subset of HFD mice opening further therapeutic targets in the treatment of diabetes.


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