Innate Immune Stimulation of Whole Blood Reveals IFN-1 Hyper-Responsiveness in Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetologia. 2020 Jun 5. doi: 10.1007/s00125-020-05179-4. Online ahead of print.


Aims/hypothesis: Self-antigen-specific T cell responses drive type 1 diabetes pathogenesis, but alterations in innate immune responses are also critical and not as well understood. Innate immunity in human type 1 diabetes has primarily been assessed via gene-expression analysis of unstimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells, without the immune activation that could amplify disease-associated signals. Increased responsiveness in each of the two main innate immune pathways, driven by either type 1 IFN (IFN-1) or IL-1, have been detected in type 1 diabetes, but the dominant innate pathway is still unclear. This study aimed to determine the key innate pathway in type 1 diabetes and assess the whole blood immune stimulation assay as a tool to investigate this.

Methods: The TruCulture whole blood ex vivo stimulation assay, paired with gene expression and cytokine measurements, was used to characterise changes in the stimulated innate immune response in type 1 diabetes. We applied specific cytokine-induced signatures to our data, pre-defined from the same assays measured in a separate cohort of healthy individuals. In addition, NOD mice were stimulated with CpG and monocyte gene expression was measured.

Results: Monocytes from NOD mice showed lower baseline vs diabetes-resistant B6.g7 mice, but higher induced IFN-1-associated gene expression. In human participants, ex vivo whole blood stimulation revealed higher induced IFN-1 responses in type 1 diabetes, as compared with healthy control participants. In contrast, neither the IL-1-induced gene signature nor response to the adaptive immune stimulant Staphylococcal enterotoxin B were significantly altered in type 1 diabetes samples vs healthy control participants. Targeted gene-expression analysis showed that this enhanced IFN response was specific to IFN-1, as IFN-γ-driven responses were not significantly different.

Conclusions/interpretation: Our study identifies increased responsiveness to IFN-1 as a feature of both the NOD mouse model of autoimmune diabetes and human established type 1 diabetes. A stimulated IFN-1 gene signature may be a potential biomarker for type 1 diabetes and used to evaluate the effects of therapies targeting this pathway.

Data availability: Mouse gene expression data are found in the gene expression omnibus (GEO) repository, accession GSE146452 ( Nanostring count data from the human experiments were deposited in the GEO repository, accession GSE146338 ( Data files and R code for all analyses are available at Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Cytokines; Diabetes mellitus, type 1; Enterotoxins; Immunity, innate; Interleukin-1; Leukocytes, mononuclear; Monocytes; Non-obese diabetic mice (mice, inbred NOD); Type 1 IFN.