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J Autoimmun. 1999 Nov;13(3):365-73.

Cellular and humoral immunity against cow's milk proteins in type 1 diabetes.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Istituto Scientifico San Raffaele, Milan, Italy.


Cow's milk beta-casein has been proposed as a candidate trigger of autoimmunity associated with type 1 diabetes. In this study, cellular and humoral immunity against beta-casein was compared to that against other major cow's milk proteins in patients with recent onset type 1 diabetes and control subjects. T cell responses were found against alpha-casein, beta-casein, beta-lactoglobulin and bovine serum albumin in both patients with type 1 diabetes (stimulation index: 0.2-22.8, n=23) and control subjects (stimulation index: 0.1-18.2, n=22), with no significant differences between groups. Twelve (52%) patients and nine (41%) control subjects had stimulation indices >3 to at least one protein, including 9 (39%) patients and 4 (18%) control subjects against beta-casein, all but one of these also having elevated responses to alpha-casein. The highest responses (stimulation index >9) were against alpha- and beta-casein in some patients and control subjects who had the HLA DR3 allele. Antibody levels against alpha-casein, beta-casein and beta-lactoglobulin were low in both patients (n=59) and control subjects (n=52). Nevertheless, significantly higher IgG binding to both alpha-casein in ELISA (P=0.02) and beta-casein using ELISA (P=0.02) and RIA (P=0.04) was observed in patients aged <15 years compared to control subjects of similar age. No relationship was found between cellular and humoral immunity against individual antigens. These data show that immune responses to cow's milk are not limited to patients with diabetes and not solely against beta-casein.

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