The mechanisms by which cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) enter and are retained in nonlymphoid tissue are not well characterized. With a transgenic mouse expressing the NKG2D ligand retinoic acid early transcript 1ε (RAE1ε) in β-islet cells of the pancreas, we found that RAE1 expression was sufficient to induce the recruitment of adoptively transferred CTLs to islets. This was dependent on NKG2D expression by the CTLs and independent of antigen recognition. Surprisingly, the recruitment of CTLs resulted in the subsequent recruitment of a large number of endogenous lymphocytes. Whereas transgenic mice did not develop diabetes, RAE1 expression was sufficient to induce insulitis in older, unmanipulated transgenic mice that was enhanced by viral infection and pancreatic inflammation. These results demonstrate that the expression of an NKG2D ligand in islets is sufficient to recruit CTLs regardless of their antigen specificity and to induce insulitis.
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