Involvement of c-myc in the resistance of non-obese diabetic mice to glucocorticoid-induced apoptosis

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Non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice spontaneously develop insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) as a consequence of autoimmune aggression of β cells of the endocrine pancreas by T cells. T lymphocytes of NOD mice are resistant to apoptosis induced by glucocorticoids, or by starving or DNA-damaging treatments, a feature that was interpreted as being linked to escape of autoreactive T cells from thymic negative selection. c-myc is one of the gene targets of glucocorticoids (GC), its expression being down-regulated by the activated GC-GC receptor complex. We investigated here whether expression of Myc protein, in response to dexamethasone stimulation, was the same in NOD mice and in non-autoimmune strains, namely NON, BALB/c and C57B1.6. We found a consistent increase in the levels of Myc protein after GC-treatment of lymphocytes of NOD mice, a finding that was in contrast to the down-regulation of c-myc that we observed in lymphocytes from mice not prone to diabetes. We also report that, rather than a absolute resistance to GC-induced cell death, NOD mice display a delayed apoptotic response to GC. We propose that the resistance of NOD mice lymphocytes to GC-induced apoptosis is because of inhibition of the repressive action of GC-GR complexes at the level of c-myc transcription. This deficient action of GC-GR results in increased production of nuclear Myc protein, peculiar to NOD mice cells, following their treatment with GC.

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