Background Allergic diseases are believed to be due to T helper (Th)2-like immunity to allergens in affected tissues, and immune responses to allergens are characterized by a cross-regulation between Th1 and Th2 cells. Atopic individuals may develop IgE antibodies to only one or more allergens. However, the mechanisms behind sensitization to a specific allergen, e.g. why an individual develops IgE to cat but not birch, are not known. Our aim was to study birch- and cat-induced Th1 and Th2 cytokine secretion in children who were sensitized to birch but not to cat, and vice versa.
Materials and methods The subjects in the study were 60 12-year-old children. Seventeen of the children were sensitized (skin prick test and circulating IgE positive) to birch but not cat, 13 were sensitized to cat but not birch, 11 were sensitized both to birch and cat, and 19 children were skin prick test and circulating IgE negative. Forty-six children had a history of atopic symptoms, and 42 of them had current symptoms. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were separated from venous blood and stimulated with cat or birch allergen. The levels of IL-4, IL-5, IL-9, IL-10, IL-13 and IFN-γ in the cell supernatants were analysed by ELISA.
Results Sensitized children produced more of the Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-9 and IL-13 than non-sensitized atopic and non-atopic children in response to stimulation with the allergen they were sensitized to. High levels of the Th2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-5 and low levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 were associated with atopic symptoms, and high cat-induced IL-9 levels with asthma.
Conclusions The Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-9 and IL-13 were all commonly detected in sensitized children after stimulation with the specific, in contrast to an unrelated, allergen. Atopic symptoms were associated with increased levels of IL-4 and IL-5 and tended to be associated with low levels of IL-10, and asthma with high cat-induced IL-9 levels.