Estrogen Therapy Delays Autoimmune Diabetes and Promotes the Protective Efficiency of Natural Killer T-Cell Activation in Female Nonobese Diabetic Mice

Endocrinology. 2016 Jan;157(1):258-67. doi: 10.1210/en.2015-1313. Epub 2015 Oct 20.


Therapeutic strategies focused on restoring immune tolerance remain the main avenue to prevent type 1 diabetes (T1D). Because estrogens potentiate FoxP3+ regulatory T cells (Treg) and invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells, two regulatory lymphocyte populations that are functionally deficient in nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice, we investigated whether estradiol (E2) therapy influences the course of T1D in this model. To this end, female NOD mice were sc implanted with E2- or placebo-delivering pellets to explore the course of spontaneous and cyclophosphamide-induced diabetes. Treg-depleted and iNKT-cell-deficient (Jα18(-/-)) NOD mice were used to assess the respective involvement of these lymphocyte populations in E2 effects. Early E2 administration (from 4 wk of age) was found to preserve NOD mice from both spontaneous and cyclophosphamide-induced diabetes, and a complete protection was also observed throughout treatment when E2 treatment was initiated after the onset of insulitis (from 12 wk of age). This delayed E2 treatment remained fully effective in Treg-depleted mice but failed to entirely protect Jα18(-/-) mice. Accordingly, E2 administration was shown to restore the cytokine production of iNKT cells in response to in vivo challenge with the cognate ligand α-galactosylceramide. Finally, transient E2 administration potentiated the previously described protective action of α-galactosylceramide treatment in NOD females. This study provides original evidence that E2 therapy strongly protects NOD mice from T1D and reveals the estrogen/iNKT cell axis as a new effective target to counteract diabetes onset at the stage of insulitis. Estrogen-based therapy should thus be considered for T1D prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Autoimmune Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / prevention & control*
  • Drug Implants
  • Estradiol / administration & dosage
  • Estradiol / therapeutic use*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Estrogens / administration & dosage
  • Estrogens / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Galactosylceramides / agonists
  • Galactosylceramides / pharmacology
  • Galactosylceramides / therapeutic use
  • Immune Tolerance / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects*
  • Lymphocyte Depletion / adverse effects
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Ovariectomy / adverse effects
  • Prediabetic State / drug therapy
  • Prediabetic State / immunology
  • Prediabetic State / metabolism
  • Prediabetic State / prevention & control*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Drug Implants
  • Estrogens
  • Galactosylceramides
  • alpha-galactosylceramide
  • Estradiol