Peripheral lymphocyte subsets were enumerated, using OKT monoclonal sera, in 56 diabetic (43 adults and 13 children) and 20 control subjects. Concomitantly, anti-islet humoral and cellular immunity was tested in vitro and serum thymulin level was measured.
In the newly diagnosed patients (<30 days; 18 cases), the percent of OKT4+ and OKT8+ cells was reduced, the OKT8+ depletion being particularly pronounced in children. Tests for cellular immunity were positive in 83% of the newly diagnosed diabetic subjects and anti-islet cytotoxic antibodies were detected in 50%. The serum thymulin level was decreased in 2 children. Later on in the course of the disease, a marked reduction in OKT3+, OKT4+ and OKT8+ cell percentage was observed, the mean OKT4/OKT8 ratio being normal or lower than normal. The percent of antibody-positive sera rose to 64%, while anti-islet cellular immunity was detectable in 54%. When extrapancreatic manifestations of probable autoimmune nature were present, anti-islet cellular immunity was detected in 100% of cases, accompanied by cytotoxic antibodies in 54%.
(1) the magnitude of T-cell depletion and/or imbalance in diabetic subjects depended mainly on the duration of the disease, (2) anti-islet cellular immunity was the anomaly most frequently detectable, and (3) a decrease in serum thymulin level was infrequently detected.