Experiments with isolated pancreatic islets or dispersed islet cells from non-inbred ob/ob mice were performed to test the hypothesis that free radicals, notably OH., mediate the diabetogenic toxicity of alloxan. Accumulation of 86Rb+ by whole islets and exclusion of Trypan Blue by dispersed cells were used as previously validated criteria of islet-cell viability. Alloxan alone drastically inhibited the Rb+ accumulation and significantly decreased the frequency of cells excluding Trypan Blue. Enzymic scavengers of O2.- and H2O2 or non-enzymic scavengers of OH. or singlet oxygen were added to the incubation medium and tested for their ability to protect against these effects of alloxan. Superoxide dismutase, catalase, dimethyl sulphoxide, benzoate, and mannitol counteracted the effects of alloxan in both cytotoxicity assays. Significant protection of the Rb+-accumulating capacity was also afforded by butanol, caffeine, theophylline, NADH, NADPH and, to a small extent, NAD+. Urea has a poor affinity for OH. and did not protect against alloxan. No effect was obtained with the singlet-oxygen scavenger, histidine. Except for the protection by NADH and NADPH, which may be due to a direct reaction with alloxan in the medium, the results strongly support the hypothesis. beta-Cells may be particularly vulnerable to alloxan because their metabolic specialization facilitates reduction of the drug and perhaps of other substrates for O2.–yielding redox cycles.

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