Insulin receptor (IR) expression on the T cell surface can indicate an activated state; however, the IR is also chemotactic, enabling T cells with high IR expression to physically move toward insulin. In humans with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and the NOD mouse model, a T cell-mediated autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic β cells occurs. In previous work, when purified IR+ and IR- T cells were sorted from diabetic NOD mice and transferred into irradiated nondiabetic NOD mice, only those that received IR+ T cells developed insulitis and diabetes. In this study, peripheral blood samples from individuals with T1D (new onset to 14 y of duration), relatives at high-risk for T1D, defined by positivity for islet autoantibodies, and healthy controls were examined for frequency of IR+ T cells. High-risk individuals had significantly higher numbers of IR+ T cells as compared with those with T1D (p < 0.01) and controls (p < 0.001); however, the percentage of IR+ T cells in circulation did not differ significantly between T1D and control subjects. With the hypothesis that IR+ T cells traffic to the pancreas in T1D, we developed a (to our knowledge) novel mouse model exhibiting a FLAG-tagged mouse IR on T cells on the C57BL/6 background, which is not susceptible to developing T1D. Interestingly, these C57BL/6-CD3FLAGmIR/mfm mice showed evidence of increased IR+ T cell trafficking into the islets compared with C57BL/6 controls (p < 0.001). This transgenic animal model provides a (to our knowledge) novel platform for investigating the influence of IR expression on T cell trafficking and the development of insulitis.
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