Diabetes-prone NOD mice are resistant to Mycobacterium avium and the infection prevents autoimmune disease


Artur P. Águas Center for Experimental Cytology, University of Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre 823, 4150 Porto, Portugal.


It was recently proposed that the diabetes genes of non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice are linked to the Bcg gene that is associated with resistance to infection by mycobacteria; however, it has not been established whether NOD mice are resistant or susceptible to the infection, although there are previous investigations on response of NOD mice to other intracellular parasites (e.g. Kaye et al., Eur. J. Immunol.22: 357–364). We have investigated here this question, as well as the consequences of mycobacterial infection on the natural history of murine diabetes. Female NOD mice were intraperitoneally infected with 108 viable bacilli of Mycobacterium avium at 2 months of age, i.e. before the mice show diabetes; they were studied up to the sixth month of age (when more than half of untreated female NOD mice show glycosuria). To determine whether NOD mice were susceptible or resistant to M. avium infection, we have compared the kinetics of bacterial growths in liver and spleen of the mice with those determined in M. avium-susceptible (BALB/c) and resistant (C3H) strains of mice. NOD mice were able to control the M. avium infection, following a pattern similar to that observed in infected C3H mice. The mycobacterial infection prevented the expression of diabetes in all of the infected NOD mice and it also decreased the incidence of proteinuria in the treated mice. The infected NOD mice showed a marked enhancement in antibodies against the 65 000 mycobacterial antigen (heat-shock protein (hsp) 65) up to the second month of infection and these elevated titres slowly decreased in the following months; anti-hsp 65 antibodies were not detected in age-matched controls. This is the first demonstration that NOD mice are naturally resistant to mycobacterial infection, and we reinforce evidence on the role of immune response triggered by mycobacteria and its hsp 65 antigen in prevention of diabetes in NOD mice.