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Quantitative analyses comparing all major spleen cell phenotypes in BB and normal rats: autoimmune imbalance and double negative T cells associated with resistant, prone and diabetic animals.


The BB rat is a model of spontaneous autoimmune diabetes. To characterize quantitatively all known immune cell subsets involved in disease pathogenesis, FACS analysis of spleen cells was performed in diabetes-prone (DP) and acutely diabetic (D) BB rats and compared with diabetes-resistant (DR) BB and normal Wistar-Furth (WF) strains. We observed increased percentages of splenic NK cells in DP and D animals compared with DR rats using an NK-specific monoclonal antibody. We found increased proportions of splenic macrophages in the T-lymphopenic DP and D rats and low macrophage contents in DR spleens compared with WF spleens. We observed that percentages of the CD4-CD8- T cell receptor alpha/beta+ (double-negative) T cell subset were strikingly increased in the lymphopenic DP and D animals, compared with DR animals. We observed increased percentages of activated splenic CD5+ T cells expressing the IL-2 receptor and MHC class II antigen in DP and D rats compared with DR animals. Our studies suggest that (a) splenic NK cells and macrophages quantitatively appear to be involved in the pathogenesis of diabetes; (b) double-negative T cells escape from the T cell depletion process; (c) a marked increase of activated splenic T cells suggests diabetes is associated with general T cell activation processes; and (d) an altered balance among the different immune cell subsets may in part explain the pathogenesis of diabetes, since marked relative changes are observed when comparing the DR strain to the DP strain in both the prediabetic and diabetic stages.

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