The very late antigen-4 (VLA-4) integrin expressed on the surface of lymphocytes and macrophages can regulate their migration to inflammatory sites as well as control cellular activation. The role of VLA-4 in the establishment of autoimmune diabetes is not easily predicted given the multiplicity of adhesion pathways and their differential use by various cell types. The contribution of VLA-4 to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus was investigated by administration of VLA-4-specific monoclonal antibodies (MoAb) in an adoptive transfer model of disease in NOD mice. This study shows that VLA-4-specific MoAbs profoundly inhibit the development of diabetes with protection sustained by repeated MoAb exposure. Insulitis was completely inhibited during treatment and progressed to a severe degree once MoAb treatment was suspended, yet ∼40% of treated recipients failed to become diabetic during 1–2 months post-treatment. Although we cannot rule out depletion of a relatively minor subpopulation of cells by prolonged anti-VLA-4 MoAb exposure, this inhibition of diabetes onset by treatment with MoAbs to VLA-4 supports a dependence on VLA-4 for cellular functions leading to diabetes and demonstrates that a significant disease modifying effect can be mediated by targeting the VLA-4 integrin.

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