Aims/hypothesis: We sought to assess the frequency, determinants and prognosis for future diabetes in individuals with islet autoimmunity and whether these factors differ depending on the age of onset of islet autoimmunity.
Methods: A prospective cohort (n = 2547) of children from the general population who had a high-risk HLA genotype and children who had a first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes were followed for up to 21 years. Those with the persistent presence of one or more islet autoantibodies were categorised as early-onset (<8 years of age, n = 143, median 3.3 years) or late-onset (≥8 years of age, n = 64, median 11.1 years), and were followed for a median of 7.4 and 4.7 years, respectively. Progression to diabetes was evaluated by Kaplan-Meier analysis with logrank test. Factors associated with progression to diabetes were analysed using the parametric accelerated failure time model.
Results: Children with late-onset islet autoimmunity were more likely to be Hispanic or African-American than non-Hispanic white (p = 0.004), and less likely to be siblings of individuals with type 1 diabetes (p = 0.04). The frequencies of the HLA-DR3/4 genotype and non-HLA gene variants associated with type 1 diabetes did not differ between the two groups. However, age and HLA-DR3/4 were important predictors of rate of progression to both the presence of additional autoantibodies and type 1 diabetes. Late-onset islet autoimmunity was more likely to present with a single islet autoantibody (p = 0.01) and revert to an antibody-negative state (p = 0.01). Progression to diabetes was significantly slower in children with late-onset islet autoimmunity (p < 0.001).
Conclusions/interpretation: A late onset of islet autoimmunity is more common in African-American and Hispanic individuals. About half of those with late-onset islet autoimmunity progress to show multiple islet autoantibodies and develop diabetes in adolescence or early adulthood. Further investigation of environmental determinants of late-onset autoimmunity may lead to an understanding of and ability to prevent adolescent and adult-onset type 1 diabetes.
Keywords: Age of diabetes onset; Autoantibodies; Child; Ethnic differences; Islet autoantibody; Racial differences; Type 1 diabetes.