Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in humans is linked with specific HLA class II genes, e.g., HLA-DQA1*0301/ DQB1*0302 (DQ8). To investigate the roles of HLA-DQ8 molecules and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) in disease development, we generated DQ8(+)/I-Abo transgenic mice expressing functional HLA-DQ8 molecules and devoid of endogenous mouse class II. DQ8(+)/I-Abo mice produced antigen-specific antibodies and formed germinal centers after immunization with GAD65 peptides. Two GAD peptide-specific (247-266 and 509-528), DQ8 restricted Th1 CD4(+) T cell lines, were generated from immunized DQ8(+)/I-Abo mice. They induced severe insulitis after adoptive transfer into transgene positive (but not negative) mice who were treated with a very low dose of streptozotocin that alone caused no apparent islet pathology. In addition to CD4, islet mRNA from these mice also showed expression of CD8, IFNgamma, TNFalpha, Fas, and Fas ligand. Our data suggest that a mild islet insult in the presence of HLA-DQ8 bearing antigen-presenting cells promotes infiltration of GAD peptide reactive T cells into the islet.