Anti-insulin antibodies are present in the majority of insulin treated diabetics, and in some cases these antibodies have been found to be highly specific for limited epitopes on the molecule. To determine how the human response differs from that seen in inbred animals, we have examined the heterogeneity and specificity of human anti-insulin antibodies by isoelectric focusing (IEF). In addition, we have used human insulin to examine the extent of autoreactivity in the serum of subjects treated with animal insulins. The majority of diabetic sera exhibited complex IEF spectra that were composed of discrete bands and unresolved smears. Autoradiography using 125I-beef, pork, and human insulin revealed some affinity differences; however, the predominant antibodies were capable of binding all insulins, including human. These specificity studies were extended by comparing competitive inhibition with excess cold insulins, and sera with highly specific binding of the A chain loop of beef insulin were identified. The spectra by IEF of these highly specific sera were found to be variable. Our results indicate that the majority of insulin-treated diabetics develop a heterogeneous antibody response that is more complex than the response of inbred animals and includes reactivity with autologous insulin. Although infrequent, individuals having antibodies directed at limited regions of the molecule can be identified and will provide valuable tools for dissecting this complex response.

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