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Int Immunol. 2001 Jul;13(7):887-96.

Cytometric and functional analyses of NK and NKT cell deficiencies in NOD mice.

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  • 1Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, Locked bag 6, Newtown, NSW 2042, Australia.


Defects in NK and NKT cell activities have been implicated in the etiology of type 1 (autoimmune) diabetes in NOD mice on the basis of experiments performed using surrogate phenotypes for the identification of these lymphocyte subsets. Here, we have generated a congenic line of NOD mice (NOD.b-Nkrp1(b)) which express the allelic NK1.1 marker, enabling the direct study of NK and NKT cells in NOD mice. Major deficiencies in both populations were identified when NOD.b-Nkrp1(b) mice were compared with C57BL/6 and BALB.B6-Cmv1(r) mice by flow cytometry. The decrease in numbers of peripheral NK cells was associated with an increase in their numbers in the bone marrow, suggesting that a defect in NK cell export may be involved. In contrast, the most severe deficiency of NKT cells found was in the thymus, indicating that defects in thymic production were probably responsible. The deficiencies in NK cell activity in NOD mice could only partly be accounted for by the reduced numbers of NK cells, and fewer NKT cells from NOD mice produced IL-4 following stimulation, suggesting that NK and NKT cells from NOD mice shared functional deficiencies in addition to their numerical deficiencies. Despite the relative lack of IL-4 production by NOD NKT cells, adoptive transfer of alpha beta TCR(+)NK1.1(+) syngeneic NKT cells into 3-week-old NOD recipients successfully prevented the onset of spontaneous diabetes. As both NK and NKT cells play roles in regulating immune responses, we postulate that the synergistic defects reported here contribute to the susceptibility of NOD mice to autoimmune disease.

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