Restoration of peripheral tolerance to target autoantigens during autoimmune diseases has met with several limitations because of the limited efficacy of this approach in an already immune host. To optimize the induction of tolerance, we have shown that feeding insulin conjugated to cholera toxin B-subunit (CTB), a potent mucosal adjuvant, reduced by 5,000 the amounts of antigen necessary for delaying diabetes onset in NOD mice. To analyze these protective mechanisms, we have performed cotransfer experiments using splenocytes from young females fed once with 10 microg of CTB-insulin, mixed with diabetogenic T-cells, and intravenously injected into irradiated syngeneic male recipients. We demonstrated that the delayed onset of diabetes relied on CD4+ T-cells. We studied the cytokine production from plate-bound anti-CD3-stimulated cells. Higher interleukin (IL)-4 amounts were observed in both splenocytes and pancreatic lymph node (PLN) cell cultures from CTB-insulin-fed mice as soon as 4 h after the feeding. An increase in the levels of transforming growth factor-beta was seen after 24 h only in the mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN). In both of these organs, a reduction of gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma) production occurred after CTB-insulin treatment, at 24 h in the PLN and at 7 days in the MLN. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis indicated an increase in the level of IL-4 and a reduction in IFN-gamma transcripts in the PLN of mice treated orally with CTB-insulin and of the recipients of regulatory T-cells. Using different strains of congenic NOD mice at the Thy1 locus, we showed that protection was associated with the accumulation of T-cells from CTB-insulin-fed mice in the lymph nodes from draining sites containing functional islets, i.e., the PLN in normal mice and the renal lymph nodes after a syngeneic islet graft under the kidney capsule of streptozotocin-treated mice. Taken together, our results clearly indicate that oral administration of CTB-insulin conjugates in NOD mice produced a shift from a T-helper type 1 to a type 2 profile with the induction of antigen-specific regulatory CD4+ T-cells in the vicinity of the mucosal barrier and close to the inflamed islets.

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