• CD8+ T cells;
  • IL-2;
  • IL-21;
  • NOD mouse;
  • type 1 diabetes


Non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice lacking interleukin (IL)-21 or IL-21 receptor do not develop autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D). We have shown recently that IL-21 may promote activation of autoreactive CD8+ T cells by increasing their antigen responsiveness. To investigate the role of IL-21 in activating diabetogenic CD8+ T cells in the NOD mouse, we generated IL-21-deficient NOD mice expressing the highly pathogenic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class-I-restricted 8.3 transgenic T cell receptor (TCR). IL-21 deficiency protected 8.3-NOD mice completely from T1D. CD8+ T cells from the 8.3-NOD.Il21/ mice showed decreased antigen-induced proliferation but displayed robust antigen-specific cytolytic activity and production of effector cytokines. IL-21-deficient 8.3 T cells underwent efficient homeostatic proliferation, and previous antigen stimulation enabled these cells to cause diabetes in NOD.Scid recipients. The 8.3 T cells that developed in an IL-21-deficient environment showed impaired antigen-specific proliferation in vivo even in IL-21-sufficient mice. These cells also showed impaired IL-2 production and Il2 gene transcription following antigen stimulation. However, IL-2 addition failed to reverse their impaired proliferation completely. These findings indicate that IL-21 is required for efficient initial activation of autoreactive CD8+ T cells but is dispensable for the activated cells to develop effector functions and cause disease. Hence, therapeutic targeting of IL-21 in T1D may inhibit activation of naive autoreactive CD8+ T cells, but may have to be combined with other strategies to inhibit already activated cells.