The emergence of a specific type of immune system cell in the bloodstream could signify the development of type 1 diabetes, according to a study led by the University of Eastern Finland.
The findings, which stem from utilising samples from children with genetic risk for type 1 diabetes, could help to explain why type 1 diabetes occurs.
This study suggests that a form of peripheral T helper cells could be key to the onset of type 1 diabetes. The type of cell investigated was the CXCR5–PD-1hi peripheral T helper cells and it was these cells that were associated with the progression of type 1 diabetes.
T cells play a central role in the body’s immune response and as a lot is still not known about them, they continue to be a focus of studies as researchers look to gain a better understanding of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune disorders.
Prior to the development of type 1 diabetes, a number of immune system components are involved, including autoantibodies, B cells (which mature in bone marrow) and T cells (which mature in the thymus – an organ which sits close to the heart).
Previous studies have found an increased number of follicular helper T cells in children with type 1 diabetes. Peripheral helper T cells are similar to the follicular cells, but the peripheral cells differ in that they express receptors on their surface allowing them to target inflamed tissue.
The current study showed that increased blood levels of peripheral helper T cells were found in children with recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes and in healthy children who developed autoantibodies.
A particularly raised number of peripheral helper T cells was found in the children who developed autoantibodies and then developed type 1 diabetes.
Speaking about this new study, Ilse Ekman, an early stage researcher who worked on the study, said: “Based on our results, it is possible that peripheral helper T cells may have a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. This information could be employed in the development of better methods to predict type 1 diabetes risk and new immunotherapies for the disease.
“However, more studies need to be conducted to verify our results and to further characterize the functionality of peripheral helper T cells.”
The research team included scientists from the Universities of Turku, Helsinki and Oulu as well as Harvard University.
The findings have been published in the journal Diabetologia.