, Volume 56, Issue 12, pp 2651–2658 | Cite as

Alternative splicing and differential expression of the islet autoantigen IGRP between pancreas and thymus contributes to immunogenicity of pancreatic islets but not diabetogenicity in humans

  • V. Martijn de Jong
  • Joana R. F. Abreu
  • Annemarie A. Verrijn Stuart
  • Arno R. van der Slik
  • Katrijn Verhaeghen
  • Marten A. Engelse
  • Bianca Blom
  • Frank J. T. Staal
  • Frans K. Gorus
  • Bart O. RoepEmail author



Thymic expression of self-antigens during T-lymphocyte development is believed to be crucial for preventing autoimmunity. It has been suggested that G6PC2, the gene encoding islet-specific glucose-6-phosphatase catalytic subunit-related protein (IGRP), is differentially spliced between pancreatic beta cells and the thymus. This may contribute to incomplete elimination of IGRP-specific T lymphocytes in the thymus, predisposing individuals to type 1 diabetes. We tested whether specific splice variation in islets vs thymus correlates with loss of tolerance to IGRP in type 1 diabetes.


Expression of G6PC2 splice variants was compared among thymus, purified medullary thymic epithelial cells and pancreatic islets by RT-PCR. Differential immunogenicity of IGRP splice variants was tested in patients and healthy individuals for autoantibodies and specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes using radiobinding assays and HLA class I multimers, respectively.


Previously reported G6PC2 splice variants, including full-length G6PC2, were confirmed, albeit that they occurred in both pancreas and thymus, rather than islets alone. Yet, their expression levels were profoundly greater in islets than in thymus. Moreover, three novel G6PC2 variants were discovered that occur in islets only, leading to protein truncations, frame shifts and neo-sequences prone to immunogenicity. However, autoantibodies to novel or known IGRP splice variants did not differ between patients and healthy individuals, and similar frequencies of IGRP-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes could be detected in both patients with type 1 diabetes and healthy individuals.


We propose that post-transcriptional variation of tissue-specific self-proteins may affect negative thymic selection, although this need not necessarily lead to disease.


Alternative splicing Autoantibodies CD8 T cell HLA multimers IGRP Immunopathogenesis Islet autoantigen Thymic selection Tolerance 



Cytotoxic T lymphocyte


Islet-specific glucose-6-phosphatase catalytic subunit-related protein


Medullary thymic epithelial cells


Peripheral blood mononuclear cell



We are grateful to P. Goubert and E. Quartier (Brussels Free University and University Hospital, Brussels, Belgium) for technical assistance in performing the radiobinding assays, and to the Belgian Diabetes Registry for providing sera from well-characterised patients with recent-onset type 1 diabetes and controls (list of active BDR members on


This work was funded by grants from the Leiden University Medical Center, the Dutch Diabetes Research Foundation, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the 7th Framework Program of the European Commission (FP-7 project no. 241833), the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FWO-Vlaanderen projects G.0311.07 and G.0868.11), the research council (OZR) of the Brussels Free University and the Willy Gepts Funds (University Hospital Brussels).

Duality of interest

The authors declare that there is no duality of interest associated with this manuscript.

Contribution statement

VMdJ and JRFA contributed to the conception and design, acquisition and interpretation of data and writing and revision of the manuscript. ARvdS, KV and FKG contributed to experimental design, acquisition and interpretation of data and revision of the manuscript. AAVS, MAE, BB and FJTS were responsible for data acquisition and revision of the manuscript. BOR was responsible for the conception of the study, analysis and interpretation of the data, and writing and revision of the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the article.

Supplementary material

125_2013_3034_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (260 kb)
ESM Fig. 1 (PDF 260 kb)
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ESM Fig. 3 (PDF 351 kb)
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ESM Table 1 (PDF 13 kb)
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ESM Table 2 (PDF 26 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Martijn de Jong
    • 1
  • Joana R. F. Abreu
    • 1
  • Annemarie A. Verrijn Stuart
    • 2
  • Arno R. van der Slik
    • 1
  • Katrijn Verhaeghen
    • 3
  • Marten A. Engelse
    • 4
  • Bianca Blom
    • 5
  • Frank J. T. Staal
    • 1
  • Frans K. Gorus
    • 3
  • Bart O. Roep
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Immunohematology and Blood TransfusionLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenthe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Paediatric Endocrinology and Center for Molecular and Cellular InterventionUniversity Medical CenterUtrechtthe Netherlands
  3. 3.Diabetes Research CenterBrussels Free University and University HospitalBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Department of NephrologyLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenthe Netherlands
  5. 5.Department of Cell Biology and Histology, Academic Medical CenterUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamthe Netherlands

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