Inflammatory destruction of insulin-producing β cells in the pancreatic islets is the hallmark of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, a spontaneous autoimmune disease of non-obese diabetic mice resembling human juvenile (type I) diabetes. Histochemical analysis of diabetic pancreata revealed that mononuclear cells infiltrating the islets and causing autoimmune insulitis, as well as local islet cells, express the CD44 receptor; hyaluronic acid, the principal ligand of CD44, is detected in the islet periphery and islet endothelium. Injection of anti-CD44 mAb 1 hr before cell transfer of diabetogenic splenocytes and subsequently on alternate days for 4 weeks induced considerable resistance to diabetes in recipient mice, reflected by reduced insulitis. Contact sensitivity to oxazolone was not influenced by this treatment. A similar antidiabetic effect was observed even when the anti-CD44 mAb administration was initiated at the time of disease onset: i.e., 4–7 weeks after cell transfer. Administration of the enzyme hyaluronidase also induced appreciable resistance to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, suggesting that the CD44–hyaluronic acid interaction is involved in the development of the disease. These findings demonstrate that CD44-positive inflammatory cells may be a potential therapeutic target in insulin-dependent diabetes
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