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Cucca F., Contu D., Zavattari P., Murru D.
The autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes (T1D) results from a T lymphocyte-dependent, selective destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic b-cells and subsequent irreversible insulin deficiency. The disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Numerous genetic, structural and biological studies have provided a convincing case that in human T1D and in its murine model, the non obese diabetes (NOD) mouse, the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules, HLA-DQB1 and -DRB1 and their murine orthologues, IA and IE, are the major genetic determinants. The two loci act as a complex superlocus, with both haplotype- and genotype-specific effects. In humans the HLA class II molecule-association with the disease is constituted by a two-sided gradient from positively associated-high risk to negatively associated-low risk molecules. Very low risk corresponds to dominant protection from the disease. The protein structure of DQ/IA and DR/IE molecules have been established. Molecular modeling work revealed that there are marked similarities both within, and cross species between T1D protective class II molecules. Likewise, the T1D predisposing molecules show conserved similarities that differ with the shared structural patterns observed between the protective molecules. The available data provide evidence for a joint action of the class II peptide-binding pockets P1, P4 and P9 in disease susceptibility and resistance with a main role for P9 in DQ/IA and for P1 and P4 in DR/IE. Overall these observations suggest shared pathways in human and murine T1D.