Aims/hypothesis: Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune-mediated process, reflected by the appearance of autoantibodies against pancreatic islets in the peripheral circulation. Detection of multiple autoantibodies predicts the development of diabetes, while positivity for a single autoantibody is a poor prognostic marker. The present study assesses whether positivity for a single autoantibody correlates with pathological changes in the pancreas.
Methods: We studied post mortem pancreatic tissue of a child who repeatedly tested positive for islet cell antibodies (ICA) in serial measurements. Paraffin sections were stained with antibodies specific for insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, interferon alpha, CD3, CD68, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), beta-2-microglobulin, coxsackie B and adenovirus receptor (CAR), natural killer and dendritic cells. Apoptosis was detected using Fas-specific antibody and TUNEL assay. Enterovirus was searched for using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridisation, as well as enterovirus-specific RT-PCR from serum samples.
Results: The structure of the pancreas did not differ from normal. The number of beta cells was not reduced and no signs of insulitis were observed. Beta-2-microglobulin and CAR were strongly produced in the islets, but not in the exocrine pancreas. Enterovirus protein was detected selectively in the islets by two enterovirus-specific antibodies, but viral RNA was not found.
Conclusions/interpretation: These observations suggest that positivity for ICA alone, even when lasting for more than 1 year, is not associated with inflammatory changes in the islets. However, it is most likely that the pancreatic islets were infected by an enterovirus in this child.