For more than 35 years, the NOD mouse has been the primary animal model for studying autoimmune diabetes. During this time, striking similarities to the human disease have been uncovered. In both species, unusual polymorphisms in a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecule confer the most disease risk, disease is caused by perturbations by the same genes or different genes in the same biological pathways and that diabetes onset is preceded by the presence of circulating autoreactive T cells and autoantibodies that recognize many of the same islet antigens. However, the relevance of the NOD model is frequently challenged due to past failures translating therapies from NOD mice to humans and because the appearance of insulitis in mice and some patients is different. Nevertheless, the NOD mouse remains a pillar of autoimmune diabetes research for its usefulness as a preclinical model and because it provides access to invasive procedures as well as tissues that are rarely procured from patients or controls. The current article is focused on approaches to improve the NOD mouse by addressing reasons why immune therapies have failed to translate from mice to humans. We also propose new strategies for mixing and editing the NOD genome to improve the model in ways that will better advance our understanding of human diabetes. As proof of concept, we report that diabetes is completely suppressed in a knock-in NOD strain with a serine to aspartic acid substitution at position 57 in the MHC class II Aβ. This supports that similar non-aspartic acid substitutions at residue 57 of variants of the human class II HLA-DQβ homolog confer diabetes risk.
Keywords: NOD mouse; congenic; gene editing; genetics; preclinical; type 1 diabetes.