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Eur J Immunol. 2002 Jan;32(1):113-21.

Endogenous expression levels of autoantigens influence success or failure of DNA immunizations to prevent type 1 diabetes: addition of IL-4 increases safety.

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Departments of Neuropharmacology and Immunology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA.

Abstract

Administration of autoantigens through DNA immunizations or via the oral route can prevent progression of islet destruction and lower the incidence of type 1 diabetes in animal models. This beneficial effect is mediated by autoreactive regulatory CD4 lymphocytes, and it is known that their induction depends on the precise dose and route of antigen administration. However, it is not clear which endogenous factors determine when such immunizations lead to activation of regulatory versus aggressive autoreactive lymphocytes and how a deleterious outcome can be avoided. Here we describe novel observations made in an animal model for virally induced type 1 diabetes, showing that the endogenous expression levels of the islet antigens and glutamic acid decarboxylase determine whether immunization with these antigens is beneficial or detrimental. Lower expression levels in beta-cells support immune regulation resulting in induction of autoreactive, regulatory cells characterized by increased IL-4 production (Th2-like), whereas higher levels favor Th1-like autoaggressive responses characterized by augmented IFN-gamma generation. Co-immunization with an IL-4-expressing plasmid reduces the risk of augmenting autoaggression and in this way increases the safety margin of this immune-based therapy. Our findings will be of importance for designing safe antigen-specific interventions for human type 1 diabetes.

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