Background The T helper type-2 (Th2)-dominated situation can be observed in allergic diseases such as asthma or atopic dermatitis. A reduced ability to produce IL-12, which is a key cytokine for the induction of Th1 responses, has been proposed to lead to aberrant Th2 development in these disease conditions.
Objective This study was intended to examine how IL-12-producing ability might associate with allergic diseases as a function of age.
Methods IL-12 production by monocytes at various ages was assessed in patients with bronchial asthma and/or atopic dermatitis (n = 100) in comparison with non-allergic control subjects (n = 144). Whole blood cells were stimulated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) after priming with IFN-γ, then intracellular cytokine expression of IL-12 and IL-8 as a control cytokine of CD14-positive cells was assessed by flow cytometric analysis.
Results In the control subjects, the ability of monocytes to produce IL-12 was negligible at birth and gradually increased with advancing age, whereas IL-8 production was intense throughout the human life. At more than 7 years of age, IL-12 production of patients with allergic diseases was significantly lower compared with that of control subjects. The unexpected finding was that infants and children below 6 years of age with allergic diseases tended to produce more IL-12 compared with age-matched controls. In this young group, it was noted that enhanced IL-12 production by monocytes was especially observed in allergic patients with specific IgE antibodies against some food allergens. Significant inverse relationships between serum IgE levels and IL-12-producing ability were found in the teenage and adult groups, but not in the younger children.
Conclusion IL-12 appeared to play different roles in the pathogenesis of allergic diseases between younger and older ages.