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Type 1 Diabetes Immunological Tolerance

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a breakdown of immunological self-tolerance to the insulin producing islet beta cells, and consequently their destruction by autoreactive T cells. Recently, the specific roles of different T cell subsets during the presymptomatic stage of type 1 diabetes have begun to reveal how they contribute to immune activation and autoimmunity.

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a breakdown of immunological self-tolerance to the insulin producing islet beta cells, and consequently their destruction by autoreactive T cells. Recently, the specific roles of different T cell subsets during the presymptomatic stage of type 1 diabetes have begun to reveal how they contribute to immune activation and autoimmunity.

Foxp3+ regulatory (Treg) cells function as key players for the maintenance of peripheral immune tolerance.

We have used murine and humanized models to show that the efficient induction of Foxp3+ Tregs from naive CD4+ T cells can be achieved by the application of a strong-agonistic T cell receptor (TCR) ligand under subimmunogenic conditions.

Impairments in Treg induction and function are important contributors to autoimmune disorders such as T1D. However, the cellular and molecular underpinnings promoting such impairments in Treg induction as well as the specific requirements for an efficient induction of Foxp3+Tregs in the setting of ongoing islet autoimmunity remain poorly understood especially in human type 1 diabetes.

To fill this knowledge gap we aim to dissect mechanisms of aberrant immune activation that can interfere with tolerance induction during islet autoimmunity and that promote progression from islet autoimmunity to clinical type 1 diabetes.

Univ.-Prof. Dr. phil. nat. Carolin and her lab therefore uses an integrative translational research approach combining cellular and molecular immunology with immunepharmacology. To this end, we integrate murine type 1 diabetes models with studies in humanized mice and focus on immune cells from non-diabetic children with ongoing islet autoimmunity or with new onset type 1 diabetes which offer an important resource for studying such signaling pathways involved in aberrant immune activation vs. immune tolerance.

In addition, we are using murine and humanized models to study combinatorial strategies of antigen-specific tolerance induction together with novel pharmacological approaches that can limit T cell activation which have the goal to broaden the window of application closer to the precipitation of autoimmune progression and clinical disease.

Moreover, given our strong interest in dissecting mechanisms of tissue-specific immune tolerance relevant to prevent autoimmune progression in type 1 diabetes we focus on the role of tissue-Tregs in inhibiting immune activation and inflammation in diabetes.

We strive to integrate these findings into understanding mechanisms of immune tolerance in diabetes with the future goal of developing innovative precision medicines aimed at the safe and specific manipulation of Foxp3+Tregs in children at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

Scientists of the Research Area

Prof. Dr. phil. nat. Carolin Daniel

Lead Scientist Research Areas: Type 1 Diabetes Immunological Tolerance

Dr. Maike Becker

Postdoc

Giulia Boschi

PhD Student

Sandra Dirschl

PhD student

Hannah Hipp

PhD Student

Till Johannsmann

Master Student

Maria Kral

PhD Student

Daria Opaleva

PhD student

Martin Scherm

PhD Student

Gianmarco Spata

PhD Student

Dr. Alexey Surnov

Postdoc

Laura Harrison

Scientific Coordinator

Emily Schardey

PhD Student