Molecular hybridization, monoclonal antibody, and electron microscopic analyses showed lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (strains Armstrong and WE) persisently infecting cells of the islets of Langerhans in BALB/WEHI mice. When monoclonal or monospecific antibody conjugated with two different fluorochrome dyes was used to mark insulin-containing β cells or viral antigens, viral nucleoprotein was identified predominately in β cells. Electron microscopy confirmed these findings by showing virions budding from the β cells. Persistent infection was associated with chemical evidence of diabetes (hyperglycemia, abnormal glucose tolerance, and normal or low-normal concentrations of insulin). Concentrations of cortisol and insulin-like growth factor in blood were normal, as was the level of growth hormone in the pituitary gland. The virus-infected islet cells showed normal anatomy and cytomorphology. Neither cell lysis nor inflammatory infiltrates were routinely seen. Thus a virus may persistently infect islet cells and provide a biochemical and morphological picture comparable to that of early adult-onset diabetes mellitus in humans.
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