University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Immune response to insulin and changes in the gut immune system in children with or at risk for type 1 diabetes
Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is considered to be an autoimmune disease. The cause of T1D is the destruction of insulin-producing β-cells in the pancreatic islets. The autoimmune nature of T1D is characterized by the presence of autoreactive T-cells and autoantibodies against β-cell molecules. Insulin is the only β-cell-specific autoantigen associated with T1D but the insulin autoantibodies (IAAs) are difficult to measure with proper sensitivity. T-cell assays for detection of autoreactive T-cells, such as insulin-specific T-cells, have also proven to be difficult to perform.
The genetic risk of T1D is associated with the HLA gene region but the environmental factors also play an important role. The most studied environmental risk factors of T1D are enteroviruses and cow's milk which both affect the immune system through the gut. One hypothesis is that the insulin-specific immune response develops against bovine insulin in cow's milk during early infancy and later spreads to include human insulin.
The aims of this study were to determine whether the separation of immunoglobulin (Ig)G from plasma would improve the sensitivity of the IAA assay and how insulin treatment affects the cellular immune response to insulin in newly diagnosed patients. Furthermore, the effect of insulin concentration in mother's breast milk on the development of antibodies to dietary insulin in the child was examined. Small intestinal biopsies were also obtained from children with T1D to characterize any immunological changes associated with T1D in the gut.
The isolation of the IgG fraction from the plasma of T1D patients negative for plasma IAA led to detectable IAA levels that exceeded those in the control children. Thus the isolation of IgG may improve the sensitivity of the IAA assay.
The effect of insulin treatment on insulin-specific T-cells was studied by culturing peripheral blood mononuclear cells with insulin. The insulin stimulation induced increased expression of regulatory T-cell markers, such as Foxp3, in those patients treated with insulin than in patients examined before initiating insulin treatment. This finding suggests that insulin treatment in patients with T1D stimulates regulatory T-cells in vivo and this may partly explain the difficulties in measuring autoantigen-specific T-cell responses in recently diagnosed patients. The stimulation of regulatory T-cells by insulin treatment may also explain the remission period often seen after initiating insulin treatment.
In the third study we showed that insulin concentration in mother's breast milk correlates inversely with the levels of bovine insulin-specific antibodies in those infants who were exposed to cow's milk proteins in their diet, suggesting that human insulin in breast milk induces tolerance to dietary bovine insulin. However, in infants who later developed T1D-associated autoantibodies, the insulin concentration in their mother's breast milk was increased. This finding may indicate that in those children prone to β-cell autoimmunity, breast milk insulin does not promote tolerance to insulin.
In the small intestinal biopsies the presence of several immunological markers were quantified with the RT-PCR. From these markers the expression of the interleukin (IL)-18 cytokine was significantly increased in the gut in patients with T1D compared with children with celiac disease or control children. The increased IL-18 expression lends further support for the hypothesis that the gut immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of T1D.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 01.11.2006