Coxsackievirus B infections have been associated with clinical manifestation of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) in several studies, but their initiating role in the slowly progressing β-cell damage is not known. This is the first prospective study designed to assess the role of coxsackie B and other enterovirus infections in the induction and acceleration of this process. Three separate series were studied: 1) an intrauterine exposure series comprising 96 pregnant mothers whose children subsequently manifested IDDM and 96 control mothers whose children remained nondiabetic; 2) a cohort of 22 initially unaffected siblings of diabetic children who were followed until they developed clinical IDDM (mean observation time, 29 months) and 110 control siblings who remained nondiabetic; 3) a case-control series comprising 90 children with newly diagnosed IDDM and 90 control subjects. Enterovirus infections were identified on the basis of significant increases in serum IgG, IgM, or IgA class antibodies against a panel of enterovirus antigens (capture radioimmunoassay). Enterovirus antibodies were significantly elevated in pregnant mothers whose children subsequently manifested IDDM, particularly in cases in which IDDM appeared at a very young age, before the age of 3 years (P < 0.005). Serologically verified enterovirus infections were almost two times more frequent in siblings who developed clinical IDDM than in siblings who remained nondiabetic (mean, 1.0 vs. 0.6 infections/follow-up year; P < 0.001). This difference was seen both close to the diagnosis of IDDM and several years before diagnosis. Up to 19% (10 of 52) of the infections in prediabetic siblings were associated with increases in islet cell antibody (ICA) levels, and 83% (10 of 12) of ICAs increase with enterovirus infections. The corresponding figures in control siblings were 3% (5 of 185, P < 0.001) and 38% (5 of 13, Ns). IgM class enterovirus antibodies were slightly elevated in young children (<3 years old)with newly diagnosed IDDM (P < 0.05), but not in older patients. These observations suggest that exposures to enterovirus infections, both in utero and in childhood, are able to induce β-cell damage and lead to clinical IDDM after a varying subclinical period.

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