PD-L1 genetic overexpression or pharmacological restoration in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells reverses autoimmune diabetes

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Immunologically based clinical trials performed thus far have failed to cure type 1 diabetes (T1D), in part because these approaches were nonspecific. Because the disease is driven by autoreactive CD4 T cells, which destroy β cells, transplantation of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) has been recently offered as a therapy for T1D. Our transcriptomic profiling of HSPCs revealed that these cells are deficient in programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1), an important immune checkpoint, in the T1D nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse model. Notably, the immunoregulatory molecule PD-L1 plays a determinant role in controlling/inhibiting activated T cells and thus maintains immune tolerance. Furthermore, our genome-wide and bioinformatic analysis revealed the existence of a network of microRNAs (miRNAs) controlling PD-L1 expression, and silencing one of key altered miRNAs restored PD-L1 expression in HSPCs. We therefore sought to determine whether restoration of this defect would cure T1D as an alternative to immunosuppression. Genetically engineered or pharmacologically modulated HSPCs overexpressing PD-L1 inhibited the autoimmune response in vitro, reverted diabetes in newly hyperglycemic NOD mice in vivo, and homed to the pancreas of hyperglycemic NOD mice. The PD-L1 expression defect was confirmed in human HSPCs in T1D patients as well, and pharmacologically modulated human HSPCs also inhibited the autoimmune response in vitro. Targeting a specific immune checkpoint defect in HSPCs thus may contribute to establishing a cure for T1D.

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