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J Autoimmun. 2011 May;36(3-4):263-77. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2011.02.005. Epub 2011 Mar 16.

IL-18 is required for self-reactive T cell expansion in NOD mice.

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University of Nebraska Medical Center, 985965 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198, USA.


IL-18 has a well-established role in pro-inflammatory responses in the islets in type 1 diabetes. Here, we identify a distinctive role for IL-18 in expanding pathogenic T cells in the periphery of NOD mice. Well in advance of disease onset, the periphery of IL-18-deficient mice exhibits reduced T cell turnover, an increased prevalence of naïve and quiescent T cells, emergence of fewer effector T cells, and disease protection. Islet-reactive T cells fail to become activated in the lymphoid organs of mice lacking IL-18 and their rapid expansion is inhibited. IL-18 secretion by antigen presenting cells increases with advancing disease and is required for expression of its receptor on T cells. Our results demonstrate that induction of the IL-18 receptor reflects a critical stage of autoreactive T cell activation and expansion on the pathway toward effector T cell differentiation. This study therefore assigns a novel role to IL-18 for expanding the pool of islet-destructive T cells during pre-diabetes. This report highlights a new basic mechanism in type 1 diabetes pathogenesis and suggests that targeting the IL-18 pathway should be explored as a potential treatment strategy.

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