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Diabetes. 2002 Mar;51(3):638-45.

Combination therapy with sirolimus and interleukin-2 prevents spontaneous and recurrent autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice.

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Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Sirolimus is an immunosuppressant that inhibits interleukin (IL)-2 signaling of T-cell proliferation but not IL-2-induced T-cell apoptosis. Therefore, we hypothesized that administration of IL-2, together with sirolimus, might shift T-cell proliferation to apoptosis and prevent autoimmune destruction of islet beta-cells. We found that sirolimus and IL-2 therapy of female NOD mice, beginning at age 10 weeks, was synergistic in preventing diabetes development, and disease prevention continued for 13 weeks after stopping sirolimus and IL-2 therapy. Similarly, sirolimus and IL-2 were synergistic in protecting syngeneic islet grafts from recurrent autoimmune destruction after transplantation in diabetic NOD mice, and diabetes did not recur after stopping sirolimus and IL-2 combination therapy. Immunocytochemical examination of islet grafts revealed significantly decreased numbers of leukocytes together with increased apoptosis of these cells in mice treated with sirolimus and IL-2, whereas beta-cells were more numerous, and significantly fewer were apoptotic. In addition, Th1-type cells (gamma-interferon-positive and IL-2(+)) were decreased the most, and Th2-type cells (IL-4(+) and IL-10(+)) and Th3-type cells (transforming growth factor-beta1(+)) were increased the most in islet grafts of sirolimus and IL-2-treated mice. We conclude that 1) combination therapy with sirolimus and IL-2 is synergistic in protecting islet beta-cells from autoimmune destruction; 2) diabetes prevention continues after withdrawal of therapy; and 3) the mechanism of protection involves a shift from Th1- to Th2- and Th3-type cytokine-producing cells, possibly due to deletion of autoreactive Th1 cells.

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