Reduced Thymic Expression of Islet Antigen Contributes to Loss of Self-Tolerance


Address for correspondence: Dr. Clayton E. Mathews, Diabetes Institute, 3460 Fifth Avenue/Rangos Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Voice: 412-692-8574; fax: 412-692-8131.


Abstract: Type 1 diabetes (T1DM) results from a failure of central and peripheral tolerance to islet cell antigens. ICA69 belongs to a group of molecules expressed predominantly in neuroendocrine tissues (including pancreatic islets), which are targets of autoimmune responses in T1DM. These molecules are also expressed in the thymus and peripheral lymphoid organs by dendritic cells. The aim of the present study was to evaluate possible variation in thymic ICA69 expression, comparing diabetes-resistant controls to T1DM-prone NOD mice. Thymic tissue was retrieved from 3- to 6-week-old female B6, NOD-H2b, and NOD mice. Paraffin-embedded sections were stained with an ICA69-specific antibody in an immunoperoxidase assay. ICA69 staining of thymic sections from B6 and NOD.H2b showed strong and continual staining, yet the sections from the NOD mice showed significantly reduced staining for ICA69. Corroboration of the reduced level of ICA69 in the thymus of NOD mice has been obtained via analysis for the expression of ICA69 versus other candidate autoantigens (glutamic acid decarboxylase 65, glutamic acid decarboxylase 67, and insulin 2) in the thymus. Real-time PCR analysis, using cDNA generated from the thymus, displayed that the expression of GAD65, GAD67, and INS2 were equivalent when comparing NOD at any age to B6, BALB/cJ, and ALR/LtJ. In marked contrast, the level of ICA69 in the thymus of the NOD mice examined was significantly reduced when compared to the controls. In fact, the real-time PCR analysis strongly suggested that ICA69 was not expressed in the thymus of NOD mice. These findings support the hypothesis that the level of thymic ICA69 expression may be of importance in regulating self-tolerance in T1DM.