T cells from an insulin-treated diabetic (ML, HLA DR1, w6) were stimulated in vitro with insulin, cloned at limiting dilution, and examined for their fine specificity and genetic restriction. T cell lines (TCL) derived from beef insulin stimulation were highly specific for epitopes on beef insulin, whereas pork insulin stimulation generated T cells that recognized determinants shared with beef insulin. Included among TCL reactive with pork insulin is one line (P2/9) that is autoreactive with human insulin. Antigen-presenting cells of known HLA type and monoclonal antibodies directed at class II major histocompatibility complex antigens were used to confirm the role of HLA-DR in restricting the response of insulin immune T cells. No preference or determinant selection within the donor's haplotypes was identified because either DR1 or DRw6 antigen-presenting cells could present the A loop of beef insulin. A TCL that recognized the A loop of beef insulin in association with DR1 was also alloreactive to HLA DR3, or a molecule closely linked to it, in the absence of insulin. A second T cell clone with insulin specificity and alloreactivity was also derived by allo stimulation of the donor's cells with DR3+ cells. When tested with a series of DR3+ stimulator cells, the alloreactivity was directed at diabetes-associated haplotypes. These data show that the T cell repertoire for insulin of a single diabetic donor encompasses that of multiple inbred animal strains and includes fine specificity for one to two amino acids, recognition of autologous insulin, and cross-reactivity with an allogeneic major histocompatibility complex antigen.

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