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Clinical and Developmental Immunology
Volume 10 (2003), Issue 2-4, Pages 141-151

Temporary, but Essential Requirement of CD8+ T Cells Early in the Pathogenesis of Diabetes in BB Rats as Revealed by Thymectomy and CD8 Depletion

Department of Cell Biology, Immunology Section, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Autoimmunity-prone BB rats demonstrate a T lymphocytopenia and abnormal T cell subset distribution. To test whether the life span of all T cells or only of certain subsets is reduced in BB rats, we thymectomised 8-week-old BB and PVG rats and subsequently assessed size and composition of the T cell population over a 6-week-period. In both strains, thymectomy (Tx) was followed by a decrease in peripheral T cell numbers, which was proportionally larger in BB rats. The decline of the Thy-1+ recent thymic migrant (RTM) T cell phenotype was similar in both strains. BB rats showed a rapid preferential loss of CD8+ and CD45RC+ T cells, whereas the relative loss of RT6+ T cells was proportional to that of all T cells and not significantly different from that in PVG rats. Tx at 8-week did not prevent diabetes. Tx of 4-week-old BB rats revealed essentially the same changes in peripheral T cell subset distribution as in 8-week-old animals. However, Tx at week 4 did prevent diabetes. Since this raised the possibility of a temporary requirement of CD8+ T cells for the development of diabetes, we performed CD8 depletions during different pre-diabetic intervals. We found that CD8 depletion from 4 to 8 and 4 to 14 weeks, but not from 8 to 14 weeks of age prevented diabetes. We conclude that the protective effect of early adult Tx is, at least in part, due to the rapid loss of CD8+ T cells, and that these cells are only required between 4 and 8 weeks of age for diabetes to develop in BB rats.