Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) including dendritic cells (DCs) play a critical role in the development of autoimmune diseases by presenting self-antigen to T-cells. Different signals modulate the ability of APCs to activate or tolerize autoreactive T-cells. Since the expression of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) by APCs has been associated with the tolerization of autoreactive T-cells, we hypothesized that HO-1 expression might be altered in APCs from autoimmune-prone non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice. We found that, compared to control mice, NOD mice exhibited a lower percentage of HO-1-expressing cells among the splenic DCs, suggesting an impairment of their tolerogenic functions. To investigate whether restored expression of HO-1 in APCs could alter the development of diabetes in NOD mice, we generated a transgenic mouse strain in which HO-1 expression can be specifically induced in DCs using a tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation system. Mice in which HO-1 expression was induced in DCs exhibited a lower Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) incidence and a reduced insulitis compared to non-induced mice. Upregulation of HO-1 in DCs also prevented further increase of glycemia in recently diabetic NOD mice. Altogether, our data demonstrated the potential of induction of HO-1 expression in DCs as a preventative treatment, and potential as a curative approach for T1D.
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