We have studied the influence of grass pollen immunotherapy on cellular infiltration and cytokine mRNA expression during allergen-induced late-phase cutaneous responses. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of immunotherapy in 40 adult hay fever sufferers, clinical improvement was accompanied by a decrease in the size of the late-phase skin response. When the immunotherapy-treated group was compared with the placebo group, analysis of skin biopsies obtained 24 h after intradermal allergen revealed a significant reduction in the number of infiltrating CD3+ (P = 0.04) and CD4+ (P = 0.009) cells and a trend for a decrease in EG2+ eosinophils (P = 0.08). Treatment did not influence allergen-induced recruitment of CD8+ cells, neutrophils, or macrophages. Unexpected increases in expression of CD25 (P = 0.006) and HLA-DR (P = 0.007) were observed in the actively treated group. In situ hybridization using a panel of riboprobes demonstrated "TH2-type" (IL-4, IL-5) cytokine mRNA responses in both groups of patients. In contrast, significant hybridization for IL-2 (8/16 patients, P = 0.02) and for interferon-gamma (6/16 patients, P = 0.04) was observed only in the actively treated group. These findings indicate that immunotherapy is associated with suppression of allergen-induced CD4+ T lymphocyte infiltration, but among the cells that are recruited, there is upregulation of CD25 and HLA-DR. At least in this model, immunotherapy does not appear to affect expression of TH2-pattern cytokines in response to allergen exposure, but expression of mRNA for Th1-type cytokines was enhanced in half of the patients. The results support the view that immunotherapy may possibly be working through induction of T cell tolerance.
V A Varney, Q A Hamid, M Gaga, S Ying, M Jacobson, A J Frew, A B Kay, S R Durham