Aims/hypothesis: Islet autoantibodies, in addition to elevated blood glucose, define type 1 diabetes. These autoantibodies are detectable for a variable period of time before diabetes onset. Thus, the occurrence of islet autoantibodies is associated with the beginning of the disease process. The age at, and order in, which autoantibodies appear may be associated with different genetic backgrounds or environmental exposures, or both.
Methods: Infants with HLA-DR high-risk genotypes (DR3/4, DR4/4, DR4/8 and DR3/3) were enrolled and prospectively followed with standardised autoantibody assessments quarterly throughout the first 4 years of life and then semi-annually thereafter.
Results: Autoantibodies appeared in 549/8,503 (6.5%) children during 34,091 person-years of follow-up. Autoantibodies at 3 (0.1%) and 6 (0.2%) months of age were rare. Of the 549, 43.7% had islet autoantibodies to insulin (IAA) only, 37.7% had glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantibodies (GADA) only, 13.8% had both GADA and IAA only, 1.6% had insulinoma antigen-2 only and 3.1% had other combinations. The incidence of IAA only peaked within the first year of life and declined over the following 5 years, but GADA only increased until the second year and remained relatively constant. GADA only were more common than IAA only in HLA-DR3/3 children but less common in HLA-DR4/8 children.
Conclusions/interpretation: Islet autoantibodies can occur very early in life and the order of appearance was related to HLA-DR-DQ genotype.