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J Immunol. 2009 Jul 1;183(1):75-82. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0804154. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

T-bet-deficient NOD mice are protected from diabetes due to defects in both T cell and innate immune system function.

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Diabetes Center and the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 94143, USA.


The transcription factor T-bet (Tbx21) is critical for Th1 polarization of CD4(+) T cells. Genetic deletion of Tbx21 can cause either exacerbation or attenuation of different autoimmune diseases in animal models. In the nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse, genetic deletion of the Ifng or the Il12b (IL-12p40) genes, which are both critical Th1 cytokines, does not reduce the incidence of autoimmune diabetes. These results suggest that autoimmune diabetes in the NOD may not be a Th1-driven disease. However, we report that Tbx21 deficiency in the NOD mouse completely blocks insulitis and diabetes due to defects both in the initiation of the anti-islet immune response and in the function of CD4(+) effector T cells. We find defective priming of naive islet-reactive T cells by the innate immune system in Tbx21(-/-) animals. By contrast to naive cells, activated islet-reactive BDC2.5 TCR-transgenic T cells do not require Tbx21 in recipient animals for efficient adoptive transfer of diabetes. However, when these BDC2.5 TCR-transgenic effector cells lack Tbx21, they are less effective at entering the pancreas and promoting diabetes than Tbx21(+/+) cells. Tbx21(-/-) regulatory T cells function normally in vitro and diabetes can be restored in Tbx21(-/-) mice by reducing regulatory T cell numbers. Thus, the absence of diabetes in the NOD.Tbx21(-/-) is due to intrinsic defects in both T cells and cells of the innate immune system paired with the relative preservation of regulatory T cell function.

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