The DRB1*15:01-DQB1*06:02 (DR1501-DQ6) haplotype is linked to dominant protection from type 1 diabetes, but the cellular mechanism for this association is unclear. To address this question, we identified multiple DR1501- and DQ6-restricted glutamate decarboxylase 65 (GAD65) and islet-specific glucose-6-phosphatase catalytic subunit-related protein (IGRP)-specific T cell epitopes. Three of the DR1501/DQ6-restricted epitopes identified were previously reported to be restricted by DRB1*04:01/DRB1*03:01/DQB1*03:02. We also used specific class II tetramer reagents to assess T cell frequencies. Our results indicated that GAD65- and IGRP-specific effector and CD25+CD127-FOXP3+ regulatory CD4+ T cells were present at higher frequencies in individuals with the protective haplotype than those with susceptible or neutral haplotypes. We further confirmed higher frequencies of islet antigen-specific effector and regulatory CD4+ T cells in DR1501-DQ6 individuals through a CD154/CD137 up-regulation assay. DR1501-restricted effector T cells were capable of producing interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and interleukin-4 (IL-4) but were more likely to produce IL-10 compared with effectors from individuals with susceptible haplotypes. To evaluate their capacity for antigen-specific regulatory activity, we cloned GAD65 and IGRP epitope-specific regulatory T cells. We showed that these regulatory T cells suppressed DR1501-restricted GAD65- and IGRP-specific effectors and DQB1*03:02-restricted GAD65-specific effectors in an antigen-specific fashion. In total, these results suggest that the protective DR1501-DQ6 haplotype confers protection through increased frequencies of islet-specific IL-10-producing T effectors and CD25+CD127-FOXP3+ regulatory T cells.
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