Type 1 Diabetes: New Class Of Antigens May Trigger The Illness

First Posted: Feb 13, 2016 07:18 PM EST

Scientists have discovered what may be a possible trigger for type 1 diabetes. The findings are published in the journal Science

Researchers at the University of Colorado made the discovery while working to understand why immune cells attack the body's own tissue--at which time, they came upon a hybrid insulin peptide that may be responsible for the autoimmune response that causes the inherited autoimmune disorder.

"Our lab studies the type of T cell known as a CD4 T cell," said Dr. Kathryn Haskins, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a news release. "We have focused on autoreactive CD4 T cells using a mouse model of autoimmune diabetes. We have been especially interested in identifying the antigens that activate these T cells."

The researchers first worked with mice, using mass spectrometry, to find the peptide targets of CD4 T cells in type 1 diabetes.

They discovered a new class of antigen present in beta cells that consisted of insulin fragments fused to peptides of other proteins--leading to the generation of hybrid insulin peptides no encoded in an individual's geneome. Next, the mutation is idenfieid as a foreign body because it is no longer matching the proper gene, resulting in an autoimmune response. 

They found similar hybrid peptides in T cells isolated from the pancreatic islets of two patients with type 1 diabetes; this may help researchers better understand why the immune system is tricked into destroying the body's own beta cells.

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