The mucosal addressin cell adhesion molecule-1 (MAd CAM-1) becomes expressed on islet vessels of NOD mice early during lymphocyte accumulation in islets. Because MAdCAM-1 preferentially mediates the homing of mucosal lymphocytes, islet-associated MAdCAM-1 could favor the accumulation of mucosal lymphocytes in pancreatic islets. Therefore, we investigated the relative frequency of islet-infiltrating lymphocytes with a mucosal phenotype (α4/β7-integrinhigh and L-selectinlow) at early and advanced stages of insulitis. We found that until the age of 12 weeks, lymphocytes with a mucosal phenotype were particularly frequent in the pancreas (percentage of β7- integrinhigh-lymphocytes was 48% at 8 weeks and 73% at 12 weeks), whereas in diabetic mice older than 16 weeks, their relative number was smaller (26% of pancreas- infiltrating lymphocytes). To define the origin and homing behavior of β7-integrinhigh-lymphocytes before their accumulation in pancreatic islets in NOD mice, we sought for such lymphocytes in different lymphoid organs and studied their recirculation. We found that compared with lymphocytes in several other strains, in NOD mice such lymphocytes were most frequent in nonmucosal lymphoid tissues (peripheral and pancreatic lymph nodes, spleen) from an early age. When injected to blood circulation, mucosal β7high-lymphocytes failed to home efficiently back to mucosal lymphoid tissue in NOD mice but homed aberrantly to nonmucosal lymphoid tissues. After adoptive transfer of diabetogenic splenocytes, the first lymphocytes accumulating in the pancreas were predominantly β7-integrinhigh. We conclude that mucosa-associated lymphocytes are involved in the early phases of islet-inflammation in NOD mice and that the aberrant homing behavior of lymphocytes expressing high levels of β7-integrin may associate with their accumulation in pancreatic islets early during insulitis.

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