In IDDM, T-cells are postulated to mediate the destruction of pancreatic β-cells. We analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) responses to human insulin, glutamate decarboxylase GAD65, tyrosine phosphatase ICA512, glucagon, membrane preparations of RIN cells and human pancreas, and three control antigens (La = nuclear cell antigen, tetanus toxoid, and phytohemagglutinin). A total of 28 patients with newly diagnosed IDDM, 9 antibody-positive (Ab+) first-degree relatives, and 16 healthy control subjects were included. Increased proliferative responses to pancreatic islet cell antigens were observed in diabetic patients and in Ab+ relatives compared with control subjects, whereas T-cell reactivity to nonpancreatic control antigens was similar between the study groups. The highest differences in the magnitude of proliferative responses were seen for ICA512, followed by membrane preparations of RIN cells, GAD65, and human pancreas. Few subjects reacted with insulin or glucagon. Interestingly, Ab+ relatives showed higher T-cell reactivity with respect to stimulation indexes and prevalences than newly diagnosed diabetic patients, and as many as 89% of Ab+ relatives showed proliferation to more than one islet cell antigen preparation in comparison to 43% of newly diagnosed diabetic patients and none of the control subjects. Statistical analysis revealed significant positive correlation of insulin autoantibody levels with the levels of insulin-specific T-cells in Ab+ relatives, but no relation of PBMC responses to age, sex, or HLA-DR haplotypes. Our results demonstrate the simultaneous existence of various autoreactive T-cells specific for islet cell antigens in the prediabetic period. These T-cells may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of the disease.

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