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J Exp Med. 2005 Nov 7;202(9):1191-7. Epub 2005 Oct 31.

The insulin A-chain epitope recognized by human T cells is posttranslationally modified.

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  • 1Autoimmunity and Transplantation Division, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


The autoimmune process that destroys the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in type 1 diabetes (T1D) is targeted at insulin and its precursor, proinsulin. T cells that recognize the proximal A-chain of human insulin were identified recently in the pancreatic lymph nodes of subjects who had T1D. To investigate the specificity of proinsulin-specific T cells in T1D, we isolated human CD4(+) T cell clones to proinsulin from the blood of a donor who had T1D. The clones recognized a naturally processed, HLA DR4-restricted epitope within the first 13 amino acids of the A-chain (A1-13) of human insulin. T cell recognition was dependent on the formation of a vicinal disulfide bond between adjacent cysteine residues at A6 and A7, which did not alter binding of the peptide to HLA DR4. CD4(+) T cell clones that recognized this epitope were isolated from an HLA DR4(+) child with autoantibodies to insulin, and therefore, at risk for T1D, but not from two healthy HLA DR4(+) donors. We define for the first time a novel posttranslational modification that is required for T cell recognition of the insulin A-chain in T1D.

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