Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disease that involves immune-mediated destruction of β cells. How β cells respond to immune attack is unknown. We identified a population of β cells during the progression of T1D in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice that survives immune attack. This population develops from normal β cells confronted with islet infiltrates. Pathways involving cell movement, growth and proliferation, immune responses, and cell death and survival are activated in these cells. There is reduced expression of β cell identity genes and diabetes antigens and increased immune inhibitory markers and stemness genes. This new subpopulation is resistant to killing when diabetes is precipitated with cyclophosphamide. Human β cells show similar changes when cultured with immune cells. These changes may account for the chronicity of the disease and the long-term survival of β cells in some patients.
Keywords: autoimmunity; immune regulation; stem cell; β cell.
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