c-Jun N-terminal kinases (SAPK/JNKs) are activated by inflammatory cytokines, and JNK signaling is involved in insulin resistance and beta-cell secretory function and survival. Chronic high glucose concentrations and leptin induce interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) secretion from pancreatic islets, an event that is possibly causal in promoting beta-cell dysfunction and death. The present study provides evidence that chronically elevated concentrations of leptin and glucose induce beta-cell apoptosis through activation of the JNK pathway in human islets and in insulinoma (INS 832/13) cells. JNK inhibition by the dominant inhibitor JNK-binding domain of IB1/JIP-1 (JNKi) reduced JNK activity and apoptosis induced by leptin and glucose. Exposure of human islets to leptin and high glucose concentrations leads to a decrease of glucose-induced insulin secretion, which was partly restored by JNKi. We detected an interplay between the JNK cascade and the caspase 1/IL-1beta-converting enzyme in human islets. The caspase 1 gene, which contains a potential activating protein-1 binding site, was up-regulated in pancreatic sections and in isolated islets from type 2 diabetic patients. Similarly, cultured human islets exposed to high glucose- and leptin-induced caspase 1 and JNK inhibition prevented this up-regulation. Therefore, JNK inhibition may protect beta-cells from the deleterious effects of high glucose and leptin in diabetes.