Aims/hypothesis: Anti-zinc transporter (ZnT)8 autoantibodies are commonly detected in type 1 diabetic patients. We hypothesised that ZnT8 is also recognised by CD8(+) T cells and aimed to identify HLA-A2 (A*02:01)-restricted epitope targets.
Methods: Candidate epitopes were selected by ZnT8 plasmid DNA immunisation of HLA-A2/DQ8 transgenic mice and tested for T cell recognition in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of type 1 diabetic, type 2 diabetic and healthy participants by IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunospot.
Results: White HLA-A2(+) adults (83%) and children (60%) with type 1 diabetes displayed ZnT8-reactive CD8(+) T cells that recognised a single ZnT8(186-194) (VAANIVLTV) epitope. This ZnT8(186-194)-reactive fraction accounted for 50% to 53% of total ZnT8-specific CD8(+) T cells. Another sequence, ZnT8(153-161) (VVTGVLVYL), was recognised in 20% and 25% of type 1 diabetic adults and children, respectively. Both epitopes were type 1 diabetes-specific, being marginally recognised by type 2 diabetic and healthy participants (7-12% for ZnT8(186-194), 0% for ZnT8(153-161)).
Conclusions/interpretation: ZnT8-reactive CD8(+) T cells are predominantly directed against the ZnT8(186-194) epitope and are detected in a majority of type 1 diabetic patients. The exceptional immunodominance of ZnT8(186-194) may point to common environmental triggers precipitating beta cell autoimmunity.