A single injection of syngeneic islet cells into the thymus of 4-week-old NOD/Lt female mice strongly retards diabetogenesis. The present study used the intrathymic route of antigen administration to compare the relative efficacy of peptides/proteins derived from two major candidate pancreatic β-cell autoantigens, insulin and GAD65, to modulate diabetogenesis. Intrathymic administration of insulin B chain or recombinant human GAD65 significantly suppressed diabetogenesis during a 20-week follow-up period, whereas no protection was mediated by either insulin A chain or a synthetic peptide (A2) derived from it. Quite unexpectedly, two GAD65-derived peptides near the COOH-terminus (p34 and p35) accelerated diabetes onset. Semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis was performed on cDNAs from isolated islets or whole pancreases of NOD/Lt females 4 weeks after intrathymic injections. Protection mediated by intrathymic administration with either intact islet cells or GAD65 were correlated with an upregulation of mRNA for T-helper 2 (Th2)-associated cytokines (interleukin [IL]-4, IL-10), concomitant with downregulation of Th1-associated interferon (IFN) transcripts (all normalized to T-cell receptor Cβ transcripts) in islet-infiltrating lymphocytes. Protection mediated by the intrathymic administration of insulin B chain, however, correlated only with a modest upregulation of IL-4 and IL-10 transcript levels, and no diminution in IFN-γ transcripts. In contrast, the diabetes-accelerating GAD65 p34 and p35 peptides were not associated with an immune deviation, expressing levels of IFN-γ characteristic of islet-infiltrating lymphocytes in vehicleinjected NOD controls. Hence, Th1-to-Th2 immune deviation provides only a partial explanation for peptide immunotherapy of diabetes in NOD mice. The finding that certain peptides can accelerate rather than retard diabetogenesis as a function of route and age of administration adds a cautionary note to this type of therapy.

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