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J Immunol. 1999 Dec 15;163(12):6933-40.

Persistent T cell anergy in human type 1 diabetes.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Toronto, The Hospital For Sick Children, Research Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


An anergic phenotype has been observed in nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice and some autoreactive T cells from patients with type I diabetes. To better understand this phenomenon, we measured T cell proliferative responses to 10 diabetes-associated and up to 9 control Ags/peptides in 148 new diabetic children, 51 age- and MHC (DQ)-matched siblings (sibs), 31 patients with longstanding diabetes, and 40 healthy controls. Most (78-91%) patient and sib responses to glutamate decarboxylase of 65 kDa (GAD65), islet cell cytoplasmic autoantibody (ICA) 69, diabetes-associated T cell epitopes in ICA69 (Tep69), and heat shock protein (Hsp) 60 involved anergic T cells that required exogenous IL-2 to proliferate. Responses to proinsulin, IA-2 (and tetanus toxoid) required no IL-2 and generated sufficient cytokine to rescue anergic T cell responses. Most new patients (85%) had autoreactive T cells, three quarters targeting more than half of the diabetes Ags. Only 7.8% of the sibs and none of the controls had such multiple T cell autoreactivities, which thus characterize overt disease. Multiple anergic and nonanergic T cell autoreactivities were sustained during 2 yr follow-up after onset and in patients with longstanding (3-26 yr) diabetes. Activated patient T cells survived severe IL-2 deprivation, requiring 20-100 times less IL-2 than normal T cells to escape apoptosis. Diabetic T cell anergy thus persists for decades and is Ag and host specific but not related to disease course. Rescue by IL-2 from bystander T cells and high resistance to apoptosis may contribute to this persistence. These data explain some of the difficulties in the routine detection of disease-associated T cells, and they emphasize challenges for immunotherapy and islet transplantation.

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