Poly I:C, an inducer of IFN-alpha and other cytokines, has been used to study the development of diabetes in both the BioBreeding (BB) diabetes prone rat and non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse animal models of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Surprisingly, poly I:C accelerates the disease in the BB rat while inhibiting it in the NOD mouse. Since cytokines can have dose related opposing effects on immune responses, we hypothesized that the paradoxical effect of polyinosinic polycytidylic acid (poly I:C) on diabetes in the two animal models is dose related. Accordingly, we compared the incidence of diabetes and degree of insulitis in diabetes prone BB rats administered saline and poly I:C at doses (0.05 microg/g body weight and 0.1 microg/g body weight) up to 100-fold lower than doses (poly-5 microg/g) previously found to accelerate diabetes. In addition, the non-specific suppressor activity of mononuclear splenocytes from BB rats administered low dose (poly-0.05 microg/g body weight), high dose (poly-5 microg/g body weight), and saline were compared. The development of diabetes was inhibited in rats treated with each dose of poly I:C. The degree of insulitis in poly-I:C treated animals was also less severe. The total white blood cell count and proportion of RT6+ T-cells and each T-cell subset were unaltered by poly I:C. When compared to splenocytes of control animals, splenocytes from poly I:C (0.05 microg/g body weight) treated rats suppressed responder cell proliferation to concanavalin A and alloantigen. However, spleen cells from high dose poly-I:C did not suppress responder cell proliferation to alloantigen. In adoptive transfer studies, the administration of spleen cells from poly-0.05 treated rats decreased the development of diabetes in recipient BB rats. In vitro studies also demonstrated that poly-I:C inhibits the proliferative response of BB rat spleen cells to concanavalin A. The administration of poly-0.05, but not poly-5.0, decreased TNF-alpha mRNA and IL-10 mRNA content in spleen cells. We conclude that poly I:C, at a dose 100 times lower than that required to accelerate diabetes prevents the development of diabetes in BB rates by interfering with the development of insulitis. The induction of suppressor cell activity induced by low dose poly-I:C in vivo and the inhibition of T-cell responses by poly-I:C in vitro suggests that the diabetes sparing activity of poly I:C is mediated by augmented immunoregulatory cell activity. Further studies with poly I:C may be important in increasing our understanding of the pathogenesis of IDDM and provide a means to prevent it.
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