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Is an Unusual Immune Cell the Cause of Type I Diabetes?

Sep 24, 2019 10:20:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Doctor Applying Injection To Patient_AdobeStock_161922487-1Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and IBM Thomas J Watson Research Center discovered unique autoimmune cells in type 1 diabetes.

Over 30 million people living in the United States are affected by diabetes, and 5% of those have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder whereby the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s own immune system. This leads to a lack of sufficient insulin needed to assist the entry of glucose into cells, causing hyperglycemia. The mechanism of this aspect is mainly unknown. However, it is held that insulin is the target of the autoimmune attack that leads to type 1 diabetes.

The autoimmune response is mediated by the adaptive immune system, which comprises primarily T and B lymphocytes. However, studies conducted by a collaboration of researchers at Johns Hopkins University and IBM Thomas J Watson Research Center resulted in the discovery of a lymphocyte that expresses both functional T and B cell receptors and lineage markers, therefore, a dual expresser (DE). The DE cell was found to express a specific unique autoantigen, a peptide they call x-Id.

People who express the HLA-DQ8 haplotype (linked to autoimmune disease in humans) have an elevated risk for type 1 diabetes. The x-Id autoantigen has an optimal binding register for HLA-DQ8. Through a series of computational experiments using a synthetic form of x-Id, the researchers were able to show that the peptide can form stable complexes with DQ8, more strongly than insulin. Further, these complexes can stimulate autoreactive helper T cells (CD4 T cells) in patients with type 1 diabetes but not in healthy patients. Antibodies secreted by DE cells were found to potently stimulate insulin-specific helper T cells.

Additional research findings from the collaborators show that individuals with type 1 diabetes are more prone to have DE cells and the x-Id peptide than those who do not have type 1 diabetes. The new information found regarding the immune cells associated with type 1 diabetes can potentially lead to the development of new immunotherapies for the treatment of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune disorders by exploiting the biology of DE cells and their interaction with other immune system cells.

HemaCare is excited to learn about these new findings between type 1 diabetes and these four immune cells. To further your research, visit our site’s broad range of product offerings including, CD4 T cells.

Reference:PhD, C. (2019). Could this unusual immune cell be the cause of type 1 diabetes?Medical News Today. Retrieved 1 July 2019, from

Topics: Autoimmune Disorders, T Cells

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