Type 1 diabetes in the nonobese diabetic mouse stems from an infiltration of the pancreatic islets by a mixed population of immunocytes, which results in the impairment and eventual destruction of insulin-producing β-cells. Little is known about the dynamics of lymphocyte movement in the pancreas during disease progression. Using advanced intravital imaging approaches and newly created reporter mice (Flt3-BFP2, Mertk-GFP-DTR, Cd4-tdTomato, Cd8a-tdTomato), we show that the autoimmune process initiates first with a T cell infiltration into the islets, where they have restricted mobility but reside and are activated in apposition to CX3CR1+ macrophages. The main expansion then occurs in the connective tissue outside the islet, which remains more or less intact. CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, Tregs, and dendritic cells (DCs) are highly mobile, going along microvascular tracks, while static macrophages (MF) form a more rigid structure, often encasing the islet cell mass. Transient cell-cell interactions are formed between T cells and both MFs and DCs, but also surprisingly between MFs and DCs themselves, possibly denoting antigen transfer. In later stages, extensive islet destruction coincides with preferential antigen presentation to, and activation of, CD8+ T cells. Throughout the process, Tregs patrol the active compartments, consistent with the notion that they control the activation of many cell types.
Keywords: autoimmunity; diabetes; immunoregulation.