Although allergen immunotherapy has been established as a treatment of type I allergy back in 1911, until now the underlying mechanisms have not been fully understood, nor are there any parameters which would allow one to monitor an ongoing treatment or to assess therapeutic success in the meantime.
We wanted to define allergen-specific parameters that change due to treatment in correlation with the clinical outcome.
We conducted a controlled study with grass pollen-allergic children and compared allergen-specific antibody titres before and 1 year after the onset of immunotherapy in contrast with untreated allergic and healthy children. Two recombinant forms of the major allergen group V of Phleum pratense (Phl p 5) served as model allergens.
No change in IgE levels and no significant reduction of skin prick test (SPT) reactivity were seen. On the other hand, a significant reduction of symptom scores in the treated group and a significant rise in allergen-specific IgG1, IgG2 and IgG4 due to the treatment could be observed, but in neither case could we establish a correlation between the increasing amounts of the single antibody classes and the reduction of symptom scores. But most interestingly, when comparing the ratio of IgG4 to IgG1 with the symtom scores, we found significant correlations. Nevertheless, treated allergic patients still differ considerably from healthy controls as nonatopics have hardly any measurable allergen-specific IgG antibodies and no IgE antibodies at all.
The ratio of IgG4 to IgG1 can serve as a valuable parameter that allows us to assess the success of immunotherapy already 1 year after the onset. The increase of specific IgG1 in relation to IgG4 during treatment reflects a possible influence of this subclass on the induction of tolerance towards allergens.