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Leflunomide, a novel immunomodulating agent, prevents the development of allergic sensitization in an animal model of allergic asthma


Dr Sly TVW Telethon Institute for child Health Research, PO Box 855, West Perth 6872, Western Australia.



Leflunomide is a new anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating agent which is showing promise in several immune disorders, especially rheumatoid arthritis. Its activity profile suggests it may be of use in modulating allergic sensitization.


To investigate the effectiveness of leflunomide in preventing the development of allergic sensitization.


Fifty-three brown Norway rats were sensitized by intraperitoneal injection of ovalbumin and adjuvant (ricin) on day 0. To determine the ability of leflunomide to inhibit primary allergic sensitization six rats were treated with A77 1726, the active metabolite of leflunomide, from day 0 through day 5, six were treated from day 5 through day 10, and nine rats acted as controls. On day 14, ovalbumin-specific serum antibody levels and the magnitude of the early-phase airway response (EAR) after inhalation allergen challenge were assessed. To determine the ability of acute topical treatment with leflunomide to inhibit mast cell degranulation, three groups of five animals received either vehicle, 100 μg A77 1726, or 1000 μg A77 1726 60 min prior to aerosol allergen challenge. To determine the effects of leflunomide treatment in vivo on mast cell function in vitro, mast cells were obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage from 17 rats (nine treated with leflunomide and eight controls). Allergen-specific and non-specific degranulation (48/80 induced) were studied.


In the leflunomide treated rats both ovalbumin-specific IgE and IgG levels were significantly reduced, and the increases in lung resistance and lung elastance were essentially abolished, compared to those of the control group. Non significant differences were found in any of the parameters between the two leflunomide treated groups. Topical pre-treatment with leflunomide did not prevent the allergen-induced EAR. Treatment with leflunomide in vivo prevented allergen-induced mast cell degranulation in vitro because the mast cells lacked IgE on their surface. Non allergen-specific degranulation was normal and allergen-induced degranulation could be restored by passive sensitization.


These data suggests that leflunomide can prevent primary allergic sensitization and prevent allergen-induced EAR by inhibiting production of allergen-specific IgE antibodies. Further studies in atopic conditions are warranted.