Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is caused by autoreactive T cells that recognize pancreatic islet antigens and destroy insulin-producing β-cells. This attack results from a breakdown in tolerance for self-antigens, which is controlled by ectopic antigen expression in the thymus and pancreatic lymph nodes (PLNs). The autoantigens known to be involved include a set of islet proteins, such as insulin, GAD65, IA-2, and ZnT8. In an attempt to identify additional antigenic proteins, we performed an expression-based genome-wide association study using microarray data from 118 arrays of the thymus and PLNs of T1D mice. We ranked all 16,089 protein-coding genes by the likelihood of finding repeated differential expression and the degree of tissue specificity for pancreatic islets. The top autoantigen candidate was vitamin D-binding protein (VDBP). T-cell proliferation assays showed stronger T-cell reactivity to VDBP compared with control stimulations. Higher levels and frequencies of serum anti-VDBP autoantibodies (VDBP-Abs) were identified in patients with T1D (n = 331) than in healthy control subjects (n = 77). Serum vitamin D levels were negatively correlated with VDBP-Ab levels in patients in whom T1D developed during the winter. Immunohistochemical localization revealed that VDBP was specifically expressed in α-cells of pancreatic islets. We propose that VDBP could be an autoantigen in T1D.
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