Insulin autoantibodies (IAAs) occur in newly diagnosed human insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) patients, but their presence in BB rats is controversial, possibly due to assay differences or variability in the animals studied. To resolve this controversy, lAAs were measured in well-characterized inbred BB rats both in radioligand assays with 125I-labeled rat insulin I or II, respectively, and in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) with rat insulin as antigen. In prospective studies, a total of 57 serums from 16 diabetes-prone (DP) BB rats were obtained during an interval ranging from 15 wk to the last week before onset and at onset of diabetes. At comparable ages, 21 serums were obtained from 8 DP BB rats not developing diabetes, and 70 matched serums were obtained from 19 diabetes-resistant (DR) BB rats. Levels of antibody binding increased slightly with increasing age in DP and matched DR rats. Two rats were positive at onset of IDDM in all assays but not in earlier samples. Otherwise, only few isolated serums from both types of rats regardless of diabetes had increased binding in one of the assays. In a cross-sectional study, the insulin-binding levels in 150-day-old DP rats (n = 20) that had not yet developed diabetes did not correlate with insulitis present in 3 of 20 rats and did not differ from 150-day-old DR BB rats (n = 20). Diabetic BB rats (n = 20) killed at 150 days of age after treatment with protamine zinc insulin for 1–3 mo showed increased binding levels (P < 0.01–0.001) in all assays compared with the DR and DP rats. We conclude that 1) IAAs may be present at low frequency at onset of IDDM in BB rats, 2) different patterns of reactivity are found in the two radioligand assays and in the ELISA, and 3)IAAs are not a marker for later development of IDDM or insulitis in BB rats.

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