Can We Learn From Viruses How to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?

The Role of Viral Infections in the Pathogenesis of Type 1 Diabetes and the Development of Novel Combination Therapies

  1. Matthias von Herrath
  1. From the Diabetes Center, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, California
  1. Corresponding author: Matthias von Herrath, matthias{at}


We will take a journey from basic pathogenetic mechanisms elicited by viral infections that play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes to clinical interventions, where we will discuss novel combination therapies. The role of viral infections in the development of type 1 diabetes is a rather interesting topic because in experimental models viruses appear capable of both accelerating as well as decelerating the immunological processes leading to type 1 diabetes. Consequently, I will discuss some of the underlying mechanisms for each situation and consider methods to investigate the proposed dichotomy for the involvement of viruses in human type 1 diabetes. Prevention of type 1 diabetes by infection supports the so-called “hygiene hypothesis.” Interestingly, viruses invoke mechanisms that need to be exploited by novel combinatorial immune-based interventions, the first one being the elimination of autoaggressive T-cells attacking the β-cells, ultimately leading to their immediate but temporally limited amelioration. The other is the invigoration of regulatory T-cells (Tregs), which can mediate long-term tolerance to β-cell proteins in the pancreatic islets and draining lymph nodes. In combination, these two immune elements have the potential to permanently stop type 1 diabetes. It is my belief that only combination therapies will enable the permanent prevention and curing of type 1 diabetes.


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