Insoluble amyloid formation by islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP) in the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas is a major pathophysiological feature of noninsulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or type II diabetes. Because in vivo formed amyloid colocalizes with areas of cell degeneration and IAPP amyloid aggregates are cytotoxic per se, the process of IAPP amyloid formation has been strongly associated with the progressive pancreatic cell degeneration and thus much of the pathology of type II diabetes. IAPP is a pancreatic polypeptide of 37 residues that, in its soluble form, is believed to play a role as a regulator of glucose homeostasis. The molecular cause and mechanism of the conversion of soluble IAPP into insoluble amyloid aggregates in vivo and its role in disease progress still remain to be clarified. Nevertheless, in the past few years significant progress has been made in understanding the amyloidogenesis pathway of IAPP in vitro and gaining insight into the structural and conformational "requirements" of IAPP amyloidogenesis and related cytotoxic effects. Importantly, several of the studies have revealed significant similarities of the above features of IAPP to other amyloidogenic polypeptides such as the beta-amyloid polypeptide Abeta. This suggests that, at the molecular level, amyloidogenesis, and possibly related cell degeneration and disease pathogenesis by completely different polypeptide sequences, may obey to common structural and conformational "rules" and follow similar molecular pathways. This review describes studies on the structural and conformational features of IAPP amyloid formation and cytotoxicity, and the application of the obtained knowledge for the understanding of the molecular mechanism of the IAPP amyloidogenesis pathway and the related cytotoxicity.
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