The Journal of clinical investigation

Follicular helper T cell signature in type 1 diabetes.

PMID 25485678


The strong genetic association between particular HLA alleles and type 1 diabetes (T1D) indicates a key role for CD4+ T cells in disease; however, the differentiation state of the responsible T cells is unclear. T cell differentiation originally was considered a dichotomy between Th1 and Th2 cells, with Th1 cells deemed culpable for autoimmune islet destruction. Now, multiple additional T cell differentiation fates are recognized with distinct roles. Here, we used a transgenic mouse model of diabetes to probe the gene expression profile of islet-specific T cells by microarray and identified a clear follicular helper T (Tfh) cell differentiation signature. Introduction of T cells with a Tfh cell phenotype from diabetic animals efficiently transferred diabetes to recipient animals. Furthermore, memory T cells from patients with T1D expressed elevated levels of Tfh cell markers, including CXCR5, ICOS, PDCD1, BCL6, and IL21. Defects in the IL-2 pathway are associated with T1D, and IL-2 inhibits Tfh cell differentiation in mice. Consistent with these previous observations, we found that IL-2 inhibited human Tfh cell differentiation and identified a relationship between IL-2 sensitivity in T cells from patients with T1D and acquisition of a Tfh cell phenotype. Together, these findings identify a Tfh cell signature in autoimmune diabetes and suggest that this population could be used as a biomarker and potentially targeted for T1D interventions.