Cellular immune responses to β casein: elevated in but not specific for individuals with Type I diabetes mellitus
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Elevated cellular immune responses against the cows' milk protein beta casein have been reported in individuals with Type I diabetes mellitus, a finding supportive of the concept that cows' milk consumption may be causative for the disease. We analysed cellular immune reactivities against beta casein in newly-diagnosed Type I diabetic patients, their immediate autoantibody negative relatives, and unrelated healthy individuals in order to further elucidate the role of anti-beta casein immunity in the pathogenesis of Type I diabetes mellitus. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were stimulated in vitro with various concentrations of three different beta casein preparations, control antigens (tetanus toxoid, mumps extract) and a mitogen (phytohemagglutinin). The frequency and/or mean simulation index of cellular proliferation against two of the beta casein preparations at high antigen concentrations (i.e. 10 or 50 microg/ml) were significantly higher in newly-diagnosed Type I diabetic subjects compared with autoantibody negative healthy control subjects. However, reactivities against beta casein in the Type I diabetic probands and their autoantibody negative relatives, individuals with a very low-rate of disease development, were almost identical. Cellular immune reactivities to other antigens were similar between the subject groups. In addition to indicating the need for appropriately matched subject populations (e.g. human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matched relatives) when analysing cellular immune responses, these findings support our previous contention that individuals genetically prone to autoimmunity may be deficient in forming tolerance to dietary antigens. However, the significance of anti-beta casein immunity as a specific causative factor in the pathogenesis of Type I diabetes mellitus remains unclear.
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