, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 216-226

The mechanisms of alloxan- and streptozotocin-induced diabetes


Alloxan and streptozotocin are toxic glucose analogues that preferentially accumulate in pancreatic beta cells via the GLUT2 glucose transporter. In the presence of intracellular thiols, especially glutathione, alloxan generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a cyclic redox reaction with its reduction product, dialuric acid. Autoxidation of dialuric acid generates superoxide radicals, hydrogen peroxide and, in a final iron-catalysed reaction step, hydroxyl radicals. These hydroxyl radicals are ultimately responsible for the death of the beta cells, which have a particularly low antioxidative defence capacity, and the ensuing state of insulin-dependent ‘alloxan diabetes’. As a thiol reagent, alloxan also selectively inhibits glucose-induced insulin secretion through its ability to inhibit the beta cell glucose sensor glucokinase. Following its uptake into the beta cells, streptozotocin is split into its glucose and methylnitrosourea moiety. Owing to its alkylating properties, the latter modifies biological macromolecules, fragments DNA and destroys the beta cells, causing a state of insulin-dependent diabetes. The targeting of mitochondrial DNA, thereby impairing the signalling function of beta cell mitochondrial metabolism, also explains how streptozotocin is able to inhibit glucose-induced insulin secretion.