Inbred diabetes-prone (DP) BioBreeding/Worcester (BB/Wor) (RT1u) rats develop spontaneous autoimmune diabetes, which, like human insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, is mediated by autoreactive T lymphocytes. Breeding studies have shown an absolute requirement for at least one copy of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) RT1u haplotype for spontaneous diabetes expression. Concanavalin A-activated spleen cells from acutely diabetic DP rats adoptively transfer diabetes only to recipients that express at least one RT1u haplotype. To investigate the basis for the MHC requirement in BB/Wor autoimmunity, diabetes-inducing T cell lines were derived from the spleens of acutely diabetic DP rats. Upon activation in vitro with islet cells, the T cell lines adoptively transfer insulitis and diabetes into young DP recipients and non-diabetes-prone RT1 congenic rat strains that are class IIu. Recipients that are RT1u at only the class I A or C locus, but not at the class II B/D loci, do not develop diabetes after T cell transfer. The adoptive transfer of diabetes by Concanavalin A-activated diabetic DP spleen cells also requires that donor and recipient share class II B/Du gene products. Furthermore, the adoptive transfer of diabetes into MHC class IIu congenic rats is independent of the class I haplotype; i.e., it occurs in the presence of class I Aa Cu or Au Ca gene products. BB/Wor T cells can be activated in vitro for the transfer of diabetes with islet cell antigens and class II-positive but not class IIu-negative antigen-presenting cells. The inductive phase of BB diabetes is therefore MHC class II restricted, and this appears to operate at the level of interaction between inducing T cells and class IIu antigen-presenting cells. These results may explain the well-documented, but not yet understood, MHC class II genetic contribution to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus pathogenesis, and they may facilitate the development of protocols designed to prevent diabetes onset in susceptible individuals.

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