Atopic asthma is a highly prevalent and serious health problem for which no therapy currently offers the hope of a cure. Preindustrialized and rural populations appear relatively protected from the asthma epidemic; the hygiene hypothesis ascribes this protection to the effects of microbes and microbial products. An important immunostimulant component of microbes is DNA; bacterial DNA contains sequence motifs centred on the CpG dinucleotide, which are suppressed in mammalian DNA. Oligonucleotides containing these motifs (CpG ODN), like bacterial DNA, promote Th1 and regulatory-type immune responses. Using CpG ODN, we and others have demonstrated in murine studies that CpG ODN are effective in preventing the development of atopic airways disease. Moreover, when administered in conjunction with experimental allergen, they promote the reversal of established eosinophilic inflammation. These data suggest that CpG ODN may be a novel therapeutic tool for the treatment of atopic asthma.
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