Natural Killer Cells as Key Mediators in Type I Diabetes Immunopathology

Graeme Gardner, Christopher A. Fraker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The immunopathology of type I diabetes (T1D) presents a complicated case in part because of the multifactorial origin of this disease. Typically, T1D is thought to occur as a result of autoimmunity toward islets of Langerhans, resulting in the destruction of insulin-producing cells (β cells) and thus lifelong reliance on exogenous insulin. However, that explanation obscures much of the underlying mechanism, and the actual precipitating events along with the associated actors (latent viral infection, diverse immune cell types and their roles) are not completely understood. Notably, there is a malfunctioning in the regulation of cytotoxic CD8+ T cells that target endocrine cells through antigen-mediated attack. Further examination has revealed the likelihood of an imbalance in distinct subpopulations of tolerogenic and cytotoxic natural killer (NK) cells that may be the catalyst of adaptive immune system malfunction. The contributions of components outside the immune system, including environmental factors such as chronic viral infection also need more consideration, and much of the recent literature investigating the origins of this disease have focused on these factors. In this review, the details of the immunopathology of T1D regarding NK cell disfunction is discussed, along with how those mechanisms stand within the context of general autoimmune disorders. Finally, the rarer cases of latent autoimmune, COVID-19 (viral), and immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) induced diabetes are discussed as their exceptional pathology offers insight into the evolution of the disease as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number722979
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Aug 20 2021


  • autoimmune
  • beta cell
  • immunopathology
  • natural killer cells
  • type 1 diabetes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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