β-cell death is regarded as a major event driving loss of insulin secretion and hyperglycemia in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In this review, we explore past, present, and potential future advances in our understanding of the mechanisms that promote β-cell death in diabetes, with a focus on the primary literature. We first review discoveries of insulin insufficiency, β-cell loss, and β-cell death in human diabetes. We discuss findings in humans and mouse models of diabetes related to autoimmune-associated β-cell loss and the roles of autoreactive T cells, B cells, and the β cell itself in this process. We review discoveries of the molecular mechanisms that underlie β-cell death-inducing stimuli, including proinflammatory cytokines, islet amyloid formation, ER stress, oxidative stress, glucotoxicity, and lipotoxicity. Finally, we explore recent perspectives on β-cell death in diabetes, including: (1) the role of the β cell in its own demise, (2) methods and terminology for identifying diverse mechanisms of β-cell death, and (3) whether non-canonical forms of β-cell death, such as regulated necrosis, contribute to islet inflammation and β-cell loss in diabetes. We believe new perspectives on the mechanisms of β-cell death in diabetes will provide a better understanding of this pathological process and may lead to new therapeutic strategies to protect β cells in the setting of diabetes.
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