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Atorvastatin helps preserve pancreatic β cell function in obese C57BL/6 J mice and the effect is related to increased pancreas proliferation and amelioration of endoplasmic-reticulum stress

Zhi-yu Chen, Shuai-nan Liu, Cai-na Li, Su-juan Sun, Quan Liu, Lei Lei, Li-hui Gao and Zhu-fang Shen*

Author Affiliations

Department of pharmacology, State Key Laboratory of Bioactive Substance and Function of Natural Medicines, Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, No.1 Xiannongtan Street, 100050 Beijing, P. R. China

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2014, 13:98  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-13-98

Published: 21 June 2014



3-Hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl CoA (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors or statins are competitive inhibitors of the rate-limiting enzyme in cholesterol biosynthesis. Currently, statins are used as first-line therapy in the treatment of diabetic dyslipidemia. However, effects of statins on β cell function remains unclear. This study aims to examine effects of atorvastatin treatment on pancreatic β cell function in obese C57BL/6 J mice and the possible mechanisms.


Diet-induced obesity (DIO) C57BL/6 J mice were treated with atorvastatin (30 mg/kg/day) for 58 days. β cell function was assessed by hyperglycemic clamp and the area of insulin-positive β cells was examined by immunofluorescence. Gene expression was assessed by RT-PCR, and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress related proteins were examined by Western blot. Additionally, cell viability and apoptosis of the cholesterol-loaded NIT-1 cells were investigated after atorvastatin treatment.


Hyperglycemic clamp study revealed that glucose infusion rate (GIR) and insulin stimulation ratio in atorvastatin-treated DIO mice were markedly higher than control mice (P < 0.05, P < 0.01 vs. con), indicating preserved β-cell sensitivity to glucose. Lipid profiles of plasma triglyceride (TG), pancreas TG and plasma cholesterol (CHO) were improved. Pancreas weight and weight index were improved significantly after atorvastatin treatment (P < 0.05 vs. con). Immunofluorescence results showed that atorvastatin-treated mice had significantly larger insulin-positive β cell area (P < 0.05 vs. con). Furthermore, RT-PCR and western blot showed that the mRNA and protein expression of pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 (Pdx1) in the pancreas were upregulated (P < 0.001, P < 0.01 vs. con). Moreover, the expression level of ER stress markers of activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4), CCAAT-enhancer-binding protein homologous protein (CHOP) and phosphorylated eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) were downregulated in the pancreas of atorvastatin-treated mice (P < 0.001, P < 0.01, P < 0.01 vs. con). Besides, atorvastatin protected the pancreatic β cell line of NIT-1 from cholesterol-induced apoptosis. Western blot showed increased expression of anti-apoptotic protein of B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2).


Pancreatic β cell function of obese C57BL/6 J mice was preserved after atorvastatin treatment, and this improvement may be attributed to enhanced pancreas proliferation and amelioration of pancreatic ER stress.

Atorvastatin; Diabetes; Pancreatic β cell function; Proliferation; ER stress; Apoptosis