To investigate the autoimmune pathogenesis of spontaneously occurring diabetes mellitus in BB rats, spleen cells of newly diagnosed diabetic BB rats were fused with mouse myeloma cells. Hybridoma supernatants were screened for antibodies by indirect immunofluorescence and by 51Cr-release assays using the RINm5F rat insulinoma cell line. One clone, E5C2, produced an IgM kappa antibody that was cytotoxic for RINm5F cells, but not for other rat cell lines nor for primary rat islet cells. However, treatment of primary rat islet cells with neuraminidase exposed surface antigens and rendered the cells susceptible to complement-mediated lysis by antibody E5C2. Using immunostaining of glycolipids separated by thin-layer chromatography, hapten inhibition assays with defined carbohydrates, and Western blots, the antigens recognized by E5C2 on RINm5F cells were identified as glycoproteins with molecular weights of 60,000 and 68,000. The antibody recognizes a carbohydrate antigen containing the sequence Gal beta 1-4GlcNAc-R, which on RINm5F cells is predominantly hidden by covalently bound sialic acid. These studies raise the possibility that hidden antigenic determinants on islet cells exposed by a variety of means may be the target of autoimmune attack.

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