Background: As one of the natural perturbants, infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV) is believed to play a role in the development of Type I diabetes. Using the DP-BB rat model for autoimmune diabetes, we here report about possible mechanisms responsible for R(at)CMV-induced accelerated onset of diabetes.
Methods: Rats were i.p. infected with 2 × 106 plaque forming units (pfu) RCMV and followed for diabetes development. Presence of RCMV antigens and DNA was analyzed by immunohistochemistry and PCR on pancreatic tissue and isolated islets. The effect of viral infection on peritoneal macrophages (pMΦ) and diabetes development was studied by analyzing numbers of pMΦ, virus permissiveness and by depletion of this subset by peritoneal lavage.
Results: RCMV accelerated onset of diabetes without infecting pancreatic islets. Immunohistochemistry and PCR on pancreas and isolated islets indicated that islets are non-permissive for RCMV. Infection results in an influx of pMΦ 1 day p.i. of which ~0.05% showed signs of reproductive infection. Depletion of pMΦ on days 1-3 p.i. completely counteracted the accelerating effect of RCMV.
Interpretation: RCMV accelerates onset of diabetes without infecting pancreatic islets. pMΦ might function as an carriage to disseminate virus to the pancreas where they enhance activation of autoreactive T cells resulting in accelerated onset of diabetes.