• oral tolerance;
  • high-dose;
  • transforming growth factor-beta

Adult rats were fed pellets containing ovalbumin (OvA) during 4 weeks, and were 2 weeks thereafter immunized subcutaneously with a mixture of OvA and human serum albumin (HSA) in Freund's complete adjuvant (day 0). As a result of the immunization, the draining lymph nodes of the non-tolerized (control) rats were heavily enlarged from day 10 to day 18; however, this size increase was absent in the OvA-fed rats. This manifestation of active suppression in the tolerized rats was preceded by the appearance of scattered CD4+ TGF-β-expressing T cells in the T cell area of their lymph nodes (days 5–8); correspondingly, the levels of TGF-β mRNA in the nodes were elevated in the tolerant rats compared with the control rats. The anti-OvA antibody levels in sera from the rats revealed that there was an initial B cell priming in the OvA-fed group, with levels higher than in the control group during the first week. Thereafter, suppression governed the response, and from day 10 onwards the anti-OvA levels were considerably lower than in the controls. When other groups of animals were pretreated with neutralizing anti-TGF-β antibodies 1 day before the immunization, the anti-OvA response of the OvA-fed rats was restored to the levels of the control group, demonstrating the importance of TGF-β in the maintenance of suppression. In conclusion, we demonstrate that TGF-β-producing cells appear in the draining lymph nodes shortly after immunization in rats made orally tolerant using a relatively high-dose feeding regime; these cells are probably responsible for the down-regulation of the immune response observed in the OvA-fed rats.