Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is caused by autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing β cells in the pancreatic islets, which are essentially mini-organs embedded in exocrine tissue. CTLs are considered to have a predominant role in the autoimmune destruction underlying T1D. Visualization of CTL-mediated killing of β cells would provide new insight into the pathogenesis of T1D, but has been technically challenging to achieve. Here, we report our use of intravital 2-photon imaging in mice to visualize the dynamic behavior of a virally expanded, diabetogenic CTL population in the pancreas at cellular resolution. Following vascular arrest and extravasation, CTLs adopted a random motility pattern throughout the compact exocrine tissue and displayed unimpeded yet nonlinear migration between anatomically nearby islets. Upon antigen encounter within islets, a confined motility pattern was acquired that allowed the CTLs to scan the target cell surface. A minority of infiltrating CTLs subsequently arrested at the β cell junction, while duration of stable CTL–target cell contact was on the order of hours. Slow-rate killing occurred in the sustained local presence of substantial numbers of effector cells. Collectively, these data portray the kinetics of CTL homing to and between antigenic target sites as a stochastic process at the sub-organ level and argue against a dominant influence of chemotactic gradients.
Ken Coppieters, Natalie Amirian, Matthias von Herrath