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Clinical and Developmental Immunology
Volume 10 (2003), Issue 2-4, Pages 153-160

Cytomegalovirus Infection Modulates Cellular Immunity in an Experimental Model for Autoimmune Diabetes

1Faculty of Medical Sciences, Department of Cell Biology, Immunology Section, University of Groningen, A. Deusinglaan 1, Groningen, AV 9713, The Netherlands
2Department of Medical Microbiology, University Hospital Maastricht, P.O. Box 5800, Maastricht, AZ 6202, 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.


Background: Viral infections are thought to play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes. In this study we investigated the effect of Rat Cytomegalovirus (RCMV) infection on cellular immunity in a well-defined animal model for diabetes, the Biobreeding (BB) rat.

Methods: Diabetes prone (DP)- and Diabetes resistant (DR)-BB rats were infected with 2 × 106 plaque forming units (pfu) RCMV. Diabetes development was monitored by frequent blood-glucose analysis. Effects of RCMV on CD4+, CD8+ and Vβ-TCR+ T-cell subsets were measured in vivo, and in vitro after restimulation with RCMV-infected fibroblasts. Proliferative capacity was determined by 3H-Thymidine incorporation.

Results: RCMV-infection resulted in a significant acceleration of diabetes onset in DP-BB rats ( p=0.003). Percentages CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells were not affected in vivo. In vitro, RCMV-restimulation resulted in a decreased CD4+/CD8+ blastoid T-cell ratio compared to ConA ( p=0.00028). Furthermore, RCMV-restimulation resulted in a strong RCMV-specific proliferation, which comprises about 50% of the response triggered by ConA. Vβ-TCR percentages did not change upon RCMV-infection or RCMV-restimulation.

Interpretation: RCMV-restimulation of splenic T-cells in vitro resulted in a strong RCMV-specific proliferation, probably also including autoreactive T-cells. In vivo, this polyclonal response might be involved in the observed accelerated diabetes development in DP-BB rats upon RCMV-infection.