Activation of B-lymphocytes during pollen season. Effect of immunotherapy


Håkansson Laboratory for Inflammation Research, Department of Clinical Chemistry, University Hospital, S-751 85 Uppsala, Sweden.



B-lymphocytes play an important part in the allergic reaction as producers of IgE antibodies.


To investigate the cell surface expression of the activation antigens CD23, CD40 and HLA-DR on B-lymphocytes in birch pollen allergic patients before and during birch pollen season and to study the effect of immunotherapy.


The study included 24 birch pollen allergic patients half of whom were treated with immunotherapy against birch pollen before the start of the season. Eleven of the 24 patients had asthma. Blood samples were taken and lung function was registered before the season began and before the immunotherapy treatment in January to February and during the season in May. The relative number of B-lymphocytes (CD19+) of the lymphocyte population and the cell surface expression of CD23, CD40 and HLA-DR on B-lymphocytes was measured by the use of flow cytometry.


In the control group of patients the relative number and concentration of B-lymphocytes, the cell surface expression of CD23, CD40 and HLA-DR on B cells, and the serum concentration of IgE increased during season compared with before season. In contrast, in the immunotherapy treated patients no changes in the number of B cells or cell surface expression of CD23, CD40 and HLA-DR were demonstrated.


The elevated expression of CD23, CD40 and HLA-DR on B cells, combined with increased levels of IgE in allergic patients during season could be explained by the effect of cytokines produced by activated TH2 cells. A shift from TH2 to TH1 cells might be the mechanism after the absence of signs of B-cell activation in immunotherapy treated patients. The prevention of increased cell surface expression on B cells by immunotherapy may constitute a significant mechanism behind the beneficial effects of immunotherapy in the treatment of pollen atopy.