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Wasp venom immunotherapy induces a shift from IL-4-producing towards interferon-gamma-producing CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes


Professor Dr W. J. Stevens, University of Antwerp UIA, Department of Immunology, Allergology and Rheumatology, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Antwerpen, Belgium. E-mail:


Background Venom immunotherapy (VIT) has proven to be very effective in hymenoptera venom anaphylaxis. However, the underlying immunoregulatory mechanisms of venom immunotherapy remain poorly understood. Recent studies measured the total amount of cytokine in culture supernatans, suggesting a shift in cytokine production from Th2 to a Th1 cytokine profile during VIT. We wanted to examine the contribution of specific T lymphocyte subpopulations, which is impossible using an extracellular method to determine cytokines in supernatants.

Objective The present study was designed to evaluate the effect of VIT on the percentages of type 1 (IL-2, interferon-gamma (IFN-γ)) and type 2 (IL-4) CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes of patients with wasp venom anaphylaxis during immunotherapy.

Methods Peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 20 individuals with a history of wasp sting anaphylaxis and a positive serum wasp venom specific IgE were isolated and in vitro stimulated with phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate and ionomycin before VIT, at the end of a 5-day semirush VIT and at 6 months during VIT. Three-colour flow cytometric analysis was used for intracellular cytokine (IL-2, IFN-γ, IL-4) detection in CD4+ (CD3+CD8) T lymphocytes and CD8+ (CD3+CD8+) T lymphocytes.

Results At the end of a 5-day semirush VIT, there was a significant decrease in percentage of IL-4-producing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, compared with cytokine-producing cells before VIT (P = 0.0002 and 0.004). After 6 months of VIT, patients showed an increased number of IL-2-producing stimulated CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes compared with values before VIT (P = 0.002 and P = 0.0003). A higher amount of IFN-γ-producing stimulated CD4+ and CD8+ cells was found after 6 months of VIT (P = 0.001 and P = 0.0006). There was no correlation between cytokine-producing cells and specific IgE for wasp.

Conclusion Venom immunotherapy induced a shift from IL-4-producing towards IFN-γ-producing CD4+ as well as CD8+ T lymphocytes.