May 22 (UPI) -- Researchers say there may be triggers to the genetically linked type 1 diabetes, identifying one potential trigger in a new study.
New research suggests that coxsackievirus decreases the number of insulin-producing β-cells, or beta cells, raising the risk for type 1 diabetes in lab mice, according to findings published Wednesday in Cell Reports.
Coxsackievirus is also known for causing Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, gastroenteritis and myocarditis.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system kills its β-cells in the pancreas. These cells are responsible for creating insulin, which regulates blood glucose.
"If they are healthy, then β-cells recover normally after stresses like viral infections, and diabetes does not develop," Jenny Gunton, a researcher at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and study author, said in a news release. "But, if β-cells don't cope well with these stresses, it can trigger the immune process that leads to type 1 diabetes."
The researchers found that the coxsackievirus wipes out a key transcription factor known as hypoxia-inducible factor 1-alpha, or HIF-1A, in β-cells. That, in turn, reduces the number of β-cells in the pancreas, decreasing insulin production and leading to an increase in risk for type 1 diabetes -- which researchers saw in lab mice.
A transcription factor is a protein that can help activate or deactivate certain genes in the body.
"While there is a strong genetic component to type 1 diabetes, genes alone cannot explain the rising global rates of type 1 diabetes," Gunton said. "Currently, the only cures for type 1 diabetes are whole pancreas or islet transplantation, and people have to take insulin for the rest of their lives. So potential preventative strategies are exciting."