During an autoimmune process, the autoaggressive response spreads from the initiating autoantigen to other antigens expressed in the target organ. Based on evidence from experimental models for multiple sclerosis, such "antigenic spreading" can play an important role in the exacerbation of clinical disease. We evaluated whether pathogenesis of spontaneous diabetes in NOD mice could be accelerated in a similar way when a novel autoantigen was expressed in pancreatic beta-cells. Unexpectedly, we found that the expression of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus nucleoprotein only led to marginal enhancement of diabetes, although such NOD-nucleoprotein mice were not tolerant to nucleoprotein. Although the frequency of nucleoprotein-specific CD8 T-cells in the pancreatic draining lymph node was comparable with the frequency of islet-specific glucose-6-phosphatase catalytic subunit-related protein (IGRP)-specific T-cells, more IGRP-specific CD8 T-cells were found both systemically and in the islets where there was a fourfold increase. Interestingly, and in contrast to nucleoprotein-specific CD8 T-cells, IGRP-specific T-cells showed increased CXCR3 expression. Thus, autoreactivity toward de novo-expressed beta-cell autoantigens will not accelerate autoimmunity unless large numbers of antigen-experienced autoreactive T-cells expressing the appropriate chemokine receptors are present.
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