Aims/hypothesis: We report the case of a woman who underwent a partial pancreatectomy for a serous cystadenoma when aged 56 years. She had been diagnosed with diabetes 6 years before and had Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Despite positive anti-GAD autoantibodies (GADA) and previous surgery, she was transiently weaned off long-acting insulin. Blood glucose levels remained well controlled with low-dose long-acting insulin. Insulin needs eventually increased 8 years after surgery, in conjunction with anti-zinc transporter 8 (ZnT8) seroconversion and decreasing residual C-peptide. We hypothesised that the surgical pancreas specimens and blood autoimmune T cell responses may provide correlates of this indolent clinical course.
Methods: Beta and alpha cell area and insulitis were quantified on pancreas head tissue sections obtained at surgery. Blood T cell responses against beta cell antigens were analysed by enzyme-linked immunospot.
Results: Pancreas sections displayed reduced beta cell and normal alpha cell area (0.27% and 0.85% of section area, respectively). High-grade insulitis was observed, mostly in insulin-containing islets, with a peri-insulitis pattern enriched in T cells positive for regulatory forkhead box protein 3 (FOXP3). In vitro challenge with beta cell antigens of circulating T cells collected 4 and 9 years after surgery revealed dominant and persistent IL-10 responses; IFN-γ responses increasing at 9 years, after anti-ZnT8 seroconversion, was observed.
Conclusions/interpretation: Despite persistent GADA and the histopathological finding of insulitis and decreased beta cell area 6 years after diabetes diagnosis, glycaemic control was maintained with low-dose insulin up to 8 years after surgery. Regulated T cell responses towards beta cell antigens and FOXP3-positive peri-insulitis suggest spontaneous long-term regulation of islet autoimmunity after substantial beta cell loss, and eventual autoimmune progression upon anti-ZnT8 seroconversion.
Keywords: Autoimmunity; Duodenopancreatectomy; Insulin secretion; Regulatory T cells; Type 1 diabetes.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.