The final pathway of β cell destruction leading to insulin deficiency, hyperglycemia, and clinical type 1 diabetes is unknown. Here we show that circulating CTLs can kill β cells via recognition of a glucose-regulated epitope. First, we identified 2 naturally processed epitopes from the human preproinsulin signal peptide by elution from HLA-A2 (specifically, the protein encoded by the A*0201 allele) molecules. Processing of these was unconventional, requiring neither the proteasome nor transporter associated with processing (TAP). However, both epitopes were major targets for circulating effector CD8+ T cells from HLA-A2+ patients with type 1 diabetes. Moreover, cloned preproinsulin signal peptide–specific CD8+ T cells killed human β cells in vitro. Critically, at high glucose concentration, β cell presentation of preproinsulin signal epitope increased, as did CTL killing. This study provides direct evidence that autoreactive CTLs are present in the circulation of patients with type 1 diabetes and that they can kill human β cells. These results also identify a mechanism of self-antigen presentation that is under pathophysiological regulation and could expose insulin-producing β cells to increasing cytotoxicity at the later stages of the development of clinical diabetes. Our findings suggest that autoreactive CTLs are important targets for immune-based interventions in type 1 diabetes and argue for early, aggressive insulin therapy to preserve remaining β cells.
Ania Skowera, Richard J. Ellis, Ruben Varela-Calviño, Sefina Arif, Guo Cai Huang, Cassie Van-Krinks, Anna Zaremba, Chloe Rackham, Jennifer S. Allen, Timothy I.M. Tree, Min Zhao, Colin M. Dayan, Andrew K. Sewell, Wendy Unger, Jan W. Drijfhout, Ferry Ossendorp, Bart O. Roep, Mark Peakman
High ambient glucose increases the efficiency of human β cell killing.