Background T helper (Th)2 cytokines are considered to play a central role in the induction and expression of allergic disease. However, the relative importance of individual cytokines is unclear, and overall disease pathogenesis appears to involve the coordinate activities of a range of Th2 cytokines acting in sequence or in parallel. The present study examines an alternative approach to the study of cytokine gene function in atopy, focusing instead upon T cell transcription factors (TFs) which play a role in the regulation of multiple cytokine genes.
Objective To investigate the allergen-induced expression of the TF GATA-3 and c-Maf in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and in cytokine-driven Th polarization.
Methods PBMC from house dust mite (HDM)-atopic and non-atopics were stimulated in vitro with allergen or anti-CD3/IL-2. TF expression was analysed by semiquantitative RT-PCR and major findings were validated by real-time PCR. Cell separations were performed to analyse the contribution of CD45RO+ cells. CD4+ cord blood cells were Th1 or Th2 polarized in vitro by exogenous cytokines and TF expression analysed by Northern blot and real-time PCR.
Results We demonstrate for the first time that during differentiation of CD4+ CD45RA+ naïve human T cells towards Th2 commitment, and during allergen-specific reactivation of peripheral CD4+ CD45RO+ Th2 memory cells in established atopics, expression of the Th2-associated TF GATA-3 is rapidly up-regulated, whereas T cells from non-atopics display equally rapid GATA-3 down-regulation under identical conditions of allergen stimulation.
Conclusion These findings identify Th2-associated TFs as key determinants of the atopic phenotype, suggesting their unique potential as therapeutic targets for disease control.