Get access

Age-related T cell responses to allergens in childhood


Andrew S. Kemp, Immunology Department, Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3052. E-mail:


Background T cell priming, as determined by allergen-induced proliferative responses, is believed to occur principally in early childhood in both atopic and non-atopic infants under the influence of multiple factors including environmental allergen exposure. It is considered that T cell priming with expansion of Th2 cells is a crucial factor in the development of atopic disease.

Objective To examine T cell priming to commonly encountered allergens in childhood in relation to age.

Methods In a cross-sectional study T cell proliferation in relation to age was examined for three common allergens, ovalbumin (OVA), house dust mite (HDM) and rye grass pollen (RYE), in atopic and non-atopic children. The effect of age on Th1 (IFN-γ) and Th2 (IL-5 and IL-13) cytokine production in response to these allergens was investigated to examine the possibility of immune deviation with time.

Results A significant increase in T cell proliferation with age was observed with RYE among atopic children only. However, the same was not observed with the two other allergens studied (i.e. OVA and HDM). In addition, RYE-induced (but not HDM or OVA) cytokine production showed an increased Th2 deviation with age as reflected in the increasing IL-5/IFN-γ and IL-13/IFN-γ ratios only among the atopic subjects with rye grass pollen sensitivity.

Conclusion These findings suggest that grass pollen sensitivity in childhood is accompanied by a progressive accumulation of allergen-primed T cells and progressive deviation of the allergen-induced cytokine response towards a Th2 response in atopic subjects throughout childhood.