The acquisition of T-cell tolerance in the thymus is limited to those antigens expressed in the thymus at the time of T-cell development. Normally, islet antigens that are involved in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) are not present in the thymus, but we have previously shown that transplantation of islets expressing relevant antigens into the thymus at the time of T-cell maturation results in prevention of IDDM in the multidose streptozotocin model of diabetes mellitus (MDSDM). Although both CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells are involved in the pathogenesis of this disease, the cells affected by intrathymic transplantation of islets are unknown. In this study, we have identified which T-cell subsets are affected by intrathymic islet antigens. Streptozotocin (STZ)-treated syngeneic islets were transplanted into the thymuses of C57BL/KsJ mice, and CD4+, CD8+, or both subsets of cells were transiently depleted with monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). After T-cell repopulation, animals that had received intrathymic islets followed by anti-CD8 mAb (P < 0.05) or both anti-CD4 and anti-CD8 mAbs (P < 0.01) but not anti-CD4 mAb alone were resistant to the development of autoimmune diabetes after five low doses of STZ. Insulitis was also reduced in mice receiving intrathymic islets and anti-CD8 (P < 0.025) or both anti-CD4 and anti-CD8 mAbs (P < 0.001). Treatment of islets with STZ before intrathymic transplantation was needed to induce tolerance. When mice that had been rendered tolerant to MDSDM by treatment with intrathymic islets and anti-CD3 or antl-CD4 plus anti-CD8 mAbs received an adoptive transfer of spleen cells from normal donor mice depleted of CD4+ but not CD8+ cells, susceptibility to diabetes was restored and hyperglycemia (P = 0.02) as well as insulitis developed. We conclude that the induction of tolerance after intrathymic transplantation of antigen-bearing islets affects developing CD8+ but not CD4+ diabetogenic T-cells.

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