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Diabetologia. 2014 Jul;57(7):1428-36. doi: 10.1007/s00125-014-3233-9. Epub 2014 Apr 16.

Low TCR signal strength induces combined expansion of Th2 and regulatory T cell populations that protect mice from the development of type 1 diabetes.

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Department of Immunology, University of Pittsburgh, BST W1151, 200 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15261, USA.



Weak stimulation of CD4(+) T cells induces expansion of CD4(+) forkhead box P3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) and can also promote T helper (Th) 2 responses, which have demonstrable beneficial effects on autoimmune diabetes. This study explored the feasibility of combined Treg/Th2 expansion for immunotherapy of type 1 diabetes in NOD mice.


We compared Treg and Th responses to dendritic cells (DC) presenting scaled antigen doses to islet-specific NOD CD4(+) T cells. Flow cytometric and Luminex analyses were performed to determine the phenotype and cytokine profile of expanded T cells. The ability of expanded T cells to prevent type 1 diabetes was tested in an adoptive transfer model.


In vitro studies revealed a hierarchical, selective expansion of Treg and T effector (Teff) populations at different antigen doses. Thus, a single low dose produced a mixture of Tregs Th2 and type 1 regulatory (Tr1) cells, which prevented diabetes in NOD-SCID mice and increased the ratio of Treg/Teff cells infiltrating the pancreatic islets. Subcutaneous injection of DC, previously shown to prevent diabetes in NOD mice, induced expansion of the same mixture of Tregs Tr1 and Th2 cells. Low-dose expansion of Treg required MHC-T cell receptor interaction and was partly dependent on T cell derived TGF-β and IL-2. Autocrine IFN-γ was required for the promotion of diabetogenic Th1 cells at high antigen doses.


Weak stimulation of CD4(+) T cells with DC and low-dose antigen expands a combination of antigen-specific Tregs Th2 and Tr1 cells that prevent autoimmunity, without the need to target or purify specific Treg populations.

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