Autoreactive T cell receptors with shared germline-like α chains in type 1 diabetes

JCI Insight. 2021 Nov 22;6(22):e151349. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.151349.


Human islet antigen reactive CD4+ memory T cells (IAR T cells) play a key role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D). Using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) to identify T cell receptors (TCRs) in IAR T cells, we have identified a class of TCRs that share TCRα chains between individuals ("public" chains). We isolated IAR T cells from blood of healthy, new-onset T1D and established T1D donors using multiplexed CD154 enrichment and identified paired TCRαβ sequences from 2767 individual cells. More than a quarter of cells shared TCR junctions between 2 or more cells ("expanded"), and 29/47 (~62%) of expanded TCRs tested showed specificity for islet antigen epitopes. Public TCRs sharing TCRα junctions were most prominent in new-onset T1D. Public TCR sequences were more germline like than expanded unique, or "private," TCRs, and had shorter junction sequences, suggestive of fewer random nucleotide insertions. Public TCRα junctions were often paired with mismatched TCRβ junctions in TCRs; remarkably, a subset of these TCRs exhibited cross-reactivity toward distinct islet antigen peptides. Our findings demonstrate a prevalent population of IAR T cells with diverse specificities determined by TCRs with restricted TCRα junctions and germline-constrained antigen recognition properties. Since these "innate-like" TCRs differ from previously described immunodominant TCRβ chains in autoimmunity, they have implications for fundamental studies of disease mechanisms. Self-reactive restricted TCRα chains and their associated epitopes should be considered in fundamental and translational investigations of TCRs in T1D.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; T cell receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / genetics*
  • Female
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin alpha-Chains / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Immunoglobulin alpha-Chains
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell