Background: Although IgE-mediated food (egg) allergy is typically lost with age the underlying immune mechanisms are not understood, particularly in relation to the development of persistent IgE-mediated aeroallergen sensitivity.
Methods: Lymphoproliferation and cytokine responses (IL-5, IL-10, IL-13 and IFN-γ) to house dust mite (HDM) allergen and egg ovalbumin (OVA) were assessed using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from children aged 6 months to 5 years (n = 59) with acute IgE-mediated egg allergy (urticaria and angiedema or anaphylaxis), as confirmed by positive skin prick testing (SPT). Of these 46 had positive SPT on the day of blood collection and 13 had outgrown egg allergy (negative SPT and successful egg challenge). Where possible, responses were compared with previous data from nonallergic children of similar ages (n = 107).
Results: Transient lymphoproliferative responses to OVA were seen in both egg-allergic and nonallergic children, but were more marked and more prolonged in egg-allergic children. Younger egg-allergic children (< 18 months) showed a mixed Th0 cytokine response to OVA, with readily detectable IFN-γ, IL-5, IL-13 IL-10. Although IL-13 and IL-5 responses (OVA) correlated in younger egg-allergic children, there was a dissociation of these Th2 responses with age. Loss of clinical reactivity to egg was associated with almost complete loss of IL-5 responses and OVA-specific lymphoproliferation. Although IL-13 levels tended to be lower with age, this was not significant. Strong IFN-γ and IL-10 responses to OVA persisted in older children after loss of OVA-specific lymphoproliferation. Lymphoproliferative responses to HDM also developed earlier in egg-allergic children compared with nonallergic children. Th1 (IFN-γ) responses to HDM were largely below detection prior to 18 months of age, but increased significantly with age. In egg-allergic children Th2 (IL-5, IL-13) HDM responses also progressively increased with age. At 3 years of age almost all egg-allergic children had positive SPT to HDM and positive lymphoproliferative responses to HDM, with strong Th1 and Th2 (Th0) cytokine production.
Conclusions: IL-5 responses (rather than IL-13) responses most closely reflected clinical food allergy, with dissociation of IL-5 and IL-13 responses in older and egg-tolerant children. In this population, food and aeroallergen sensitivity was not associated with inability to produce IFN-γ, but rather with mixed Th2 and Th1 (Th0) responses. Strong IL-10 and IFN-γ responses where associated with the development of tolerance, suggesting persistent ‘regulatory’ populations of OVA-specific T cells, rather than clonal deletion of OVA responsive T-cells.