Exosomes Released by Islet-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Trigger Autoimmune Responses in NOD Mice

  1. Yang D. Dai
  1. Division of Immune Regulation, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, San Diego, CA
  1. Corresponding author: Yang D. Dai, ydai{at}


Exosomes (EXOs) are secreted, nano-sized membrane vesicles that contain potent immunostimulatory materials. We have recently demonstrated that insulinoma-released EXOs can stimulate the autoimmune responses in nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice, a spontaneous disease model for type 1 diabetes. To investigate whether primary islet cells can produce EXOs, we isolated cells from the islet of Langerhans of NOD mice and cultured them in vitro. Interestingly, cultured islets release fibroblast-like, fast-replicating cells that express mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) markers, including CD105 and stem-cell antigen-1. These islet MSC–like cells release highly immunostimulatory EXOs that could activate autoreactive B and T cells endogenously primed in NOD mice. Serum EXO levels and EXO-induced interferon-γ production were positively correlated with disease progression at the early prediabetic stage. Consistent with these observations, immunohistological analysis of pancreata showed that CD105+ cells are restricted to the peri-islet area in normal islets but penetrate into the β-cell area as lymphocyte infiltration occurs. Immunization with EXOs promoted expansion of transferred diabetogenic T cells and accelerated the effector T cell–mediated destruction of islets. Thus, EXOs could be the autoantigen carrier with potent adjuvant activities and may function as the autoimmune trigger in NOD mice.


  • Received May 29, 2013.
  • Accepted October 23, 2013.

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