Single-Cell RNA Sequencing Reveals Expanded Clones of Islet Antigen-Reactive CD4(+) T Cells in Peripheral Blood of Subjects with Type 1 Diabetes.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950) (2017)


The significance of islet Ag-reactive T cells found in peripheral blood of type 1 diabetes (T1D) subjects is unclear, partly because similar cells are also found in healthy control (HC) subjects. We hypothesized that key disease-associated cells would show evidence of prior Ag exposure, inferred from expanded TCR clonotypes, and essential phenotypic properties in their transcriptomes. To test this, we developed single-cell RNA sequencing procedures for identifying TCR clonotypes and transcript phenotypes in individual T cells. We applied these procedures to analysis of islet Ag-reactive CD4(+) memory T cells from the blood of T1D and HC individuals after activation with pooled immunodominant islet peptides. We found extensive TCR clonotype sharing in Ag-activated cells, especially from individual T1D subjects, consistent with in vivo T cell expansion during disease progression. The expanded clonotype from one T1D subject was detected at repeat visits spanning >15 mo, demonstrating clonotype stability. Notably, we found no clonotype sharing between subjects, indicating a predominance of "private" TCR specificities. Expanded clones from two T1D subjects recognized distinct IGRP peptides, implicating this molecule as a trigger for CD4(+) T cell expansion. Although overall transcript profiles of cells from HC and T1D subjects were similar, profiles from the most expanded clones were distinctive. Our findings demonstrate that islet Ag-reactive CD4(+) memory T cells with unique Ag specificities and phenotypes are expanded during disease progression and can be detected by single-cell analysis of peripheral blood.