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BACKGROUND: The cross-talk between pathogenic T lymphocytes and regulatory T cells (Tregs) plays a major role in the progression of autoimmune diseases. Our objective is to identify molecules and/or pathways involved in this interaction and representing potential targets for innovative therapies. Glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR) and its ligand are key players in the T effector/Treg interaction. GITR is expressed at low levels on resting T cells and is significantly up-regulated upon activation. Constitutive high expression of GITR is detected only on Tregs. GITR interacts with its ligand mainly expressed on antigen presenting cells and endothelial cells. It has been suggested that GITR triggering activates effector T lymphocytes while inhibiting Tregs thus contributing to the amplification of immune responses. In this study, we examined the role of GITR/GITRLigand interaction in the progression of autoimmune diabetes. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Treatment of 10-day-old non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice, which spontaneously develop diabetes, with an agonistic GITR-specific antibody induced a significant acceleration of disease onset (80% at 12 weeks of age). This activity was not due to a decline in the numbers or functional capacity of CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) Tregs but rather to a major activation of 'diabetogenic' T cells. This conclusion was supported by results showing that anti-GITR antibody exacerbates diabetes also in CD28(-/-) NOD mice, which lack Tregs. In addition, treatment of NOD mice, infused with the diabetogenic CD4(+)BDC2.5 T cell clone, with GITR-specific antibody substantially increased their migration, proliferation and activation within the pancreatic islets and draining lymph nodes. As a mirror image, blockade of the GITR/GITRLigand pathway using a neutralizing GITRLigand-specific antibody significantly protected from diabetes even at late stages of disease progression. Experiments using the BDC2.5 T cell transfer model suggested that the GITRLigand antibody acted by limiting the homing and proliferation of pathogenic T cells in pancreatic lymph nodes. CONCLUSION: GITR triggering plays an important costimulatory role on diabetogenic T cells contributing to the development of autoimmune responses. Therefore, blockade of the GITR/GITRLigand pathway appears as a novel promising clinically oriented strategy as GITRLigand-specific antibody applied at an advanced stage of disease progression can prevent overt diabetes.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Animals, Antigen-Presenting Cells, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cell Proliferation, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1, Endothelial Cells, Female, Glucocorticoid-Induced TNFR-Related Protein, Ligands, Lymph Nodes, Mice, Mice, Inbred NOD, Mice, SCID, Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor, Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Spleen, Tumor Necrosis Factors