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Diabetes. 2008 Jan;57(1):113-23. Epub 2007 Oct 10.

Functional waning of naturally occurring CD4+ regulatory T-cells contributes to the onset of autoimmune diabetes.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, McGill Center for the Study of Host Resistance, McGill University, 3775 University St., Room 510, Lyman Duff Medical Building, Montreal, QC, Canada.



In this study, we asked whether a possible quantitative or qualitative deficiency in naturally occurring Foxp3(+)CD4(+) regulatory T-cells (nT(reg)), which display potent inhibitory effects on T-cell functions in vitro and in vivo, may predispose to the development of type 1 diabetes.


We assessed the frequency and function of Foxp3(+) nT(reg) cells in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues in the NOD animal model of type 1 diabetes.


We show that the cellular frequency of Foxp3(+) nT(reg) cells in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues is stable and does not decline relative to type 1 diabetes-resistant mice. We show that thymic and peripheral CD4(+)CD25(+) T-cells are fully functional in vivo. We also examined the functional impact of CD4(+)Foxp3(+) nT(reg) cells on the development of autoimmune diabetes, and we demonstrate that nT(reg) cells do not affect the initial priming or expansion of antigen-specific diabetogenic T-cells but impact their differentiation in pancreatic lymph nodes. Moreover, CD4(+)Foxp3(+) nT(reg) cells also regulate later events of diabetogenesis by preferentially localizing in the pancreatic environment where they suppress the accumulation and function of effector T-cells. Finally, we show that the nT(reg) cell functional potency and intra-pancreatic proliferative potential declines with age, in turn augmenting diabetogenic responses and disease susceptibility.


This study demonstrates that Foxp3-expressing nT(reg) cells in NOD mice regulate diabetogenesis, but temporal alterations in nT(reg) cell function promote immune dysregulation and the onset of spontaneous autoimmunity.

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