Nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice present concomitant signs of cell-mediated and humoral autoimmunity. Whereas the involvement of the cell-mediated manifestations in the pathogenesis of diabetes has been clearly demonstrated, the origin and the relevance of the humoral manifestations is still unclear. In the present study, we have tried to determine whether the humoral manifestations observed in NOD mice were secondary to the cell-mediated antiislet reaction, or whether they resulted from an autonomous polyclonal activation of B cells, a possibility suggested by the notorious presence of antilymphocyte antibodies with thymocytotoxic properties, in the serum of old NOD females. To discriminate between the two alternatives, we have followed the titers of thymocytotoxic autoantibodies in aging males and females, as well as in F1 hybrids where the organ-specific disease is recessive, and in back-crossed mice where the susceptibility genes responsible for insulitis and diabetes have segregated. In addition to thymocytotoxic antibodies, we have also screened the sera of these animals for hyperglobulinemia, antiinsulin, and anti-DNA autoantibodies that are classically associated with polyclonal B cell activation in autoimmune strains of mice. The results indicate that these humoral anomalies are clearly disconnected from the occurrence of diabetes and even of insulitis. Lymphocytotoxic antibodies appear several weeks after the onset of insulitis in NOD mice, are not correlated with disease occurrence and have no predictive value for its onset. The humoral manifestations that include, beside thymocytotoxic antibodies, antiinsulin antibodies, hyperglobulinemia, but no anti-DNA antibodies, are found at the same frequency in F1 mice as in parental mice in spite of the fact that the former are practically free of insulitis lesions. These anomalies are also randomly distributed among back-crossed mice independently of the presence and the severity of the organ-specific lesions. Altogether, these results suggest that NOD mice, like other autoimmune strains, suffer from a genetically inherited defect of B cell regulation resulting in the hyperproduction of natural autoantibodies.

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