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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59182. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059182. Epub 2013 Mar 15.

Alteration of the thymic T cell repertoire by rotavirus infection is associated with delayed type 1 diabetes development in non-obese diabetic mice.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


Rotaviruses are implicated as a viral trigger for the acceleration of type 1 diabetes in children. Infection of adult non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice with rotavirus strain RRV accelerates diabetes development, whereas RRV infection in infant NOD mice delays diabetes onset. In this study of infant mice, RRV titers and lymphocyte populations in the intestine, mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN) and thymus of NOD mice were compared with those in diabetes-resistant BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice. Enhanced intestinal RRV infection occurred in NOD mice compared with the other mouse strains. This was associated with increases in the frequency of CD8αβ TCRαβ intraepithelial lymphocytes, and their PD-L1 expression. Virus spread to the MLN and T cell numbers there also were greatest in NOD mice. Thymic RRV infection is shown here in all mouse strains, often in combination with alterations in T cell ontogeny. Infection lowered thymocyte numbers in infant NOD and C57BL/6 mice, whereas thymocyte production was unaltered overall in infant BALB/c mice. In the NOD mouse thymus, effector CD4(+) T cell numbers were reduced by infection, whereas regulatory T cell numbers were maintained. It is proposed that maintenance of thymic regulatory T cell numbers may contribute to the increased suppression of inflammatory T cells in response to a strong stimulus observed in pancreatic lymph nodes of adult mice infected as infants. These findings show that rotavirus replication is enhanced in diabetes-prone mice, and provide evidence that thymic T cell alterations may contribute to the delayed diabetes onset following RRV infection.

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