To evaluate factors influencing the alteration in subsets of T-lymphocytes, we studied 24 pairs of identical twins discordant for insulin-dependent (type I) diabetes mellitus. Subsets were assessed by monoclonal antibodies and a pure preparation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells obtained by centrifugation of heparinized whole blood with a Ficoll/Triosil gradient. In 12 pairs studied within 5 yr of diagnosis, we observed a reduction in the percentage of cells reacting with OKT8 (recognizing the CD8 antigen present on the suppressor/cytotoxic subset) (P < .05), but a similar level was detected in their nondiabetic cotwins. In 12 pairs studied >5 yr after the diagnosis and in whom the nondiabetic twin is less likely to develop diabetes, the percentage of cells reacting with OKT8 was reduced in both the diabetic (P < .05) and the nondiabetic (P < .01) twins. Reductions were also seen with OKT3 (recognizing the CD3 antigen present on the total T-lymphocyte population) and OKT4 (recognizing the CD4 antigen present on the helper/inducer subset), but only in the diabetic twins from the group with longer discordance. We conclude that a reduced percentage of suppressor/cytotoxic cells is associated with type I diabetes, but the reduction appears to be genetically determined. Total T-lymphocytes are also reduced but mainly in the helper/inducer subset and only in diabetic patients of long duration. Such a reduction cannot therefore be primarily genetically determined.

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