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Grass-specific CD4+ T-cells exhibit varying degrees of cross-reactivity, implications for allergen-specific immunotherapy

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Summary

Background

Conceptually, allergic responses may involve cross-reactivity by antibodies or T-cells. While IgE cross-reactivity among grass-pollen allergens has been observed, cross-reactivity at the allergen-specific T-cell level has been less documented. Identification of the patterns of cross-reactivity may improve our understanding, allowing optimization of better immunotherapy strategies.

Objectives

We use Phleum pratense as model for the studying of cross-reactivity at the allergen-specific CD4+ T cell level among DR04:01 restricted Pooideae grass-pollen T-cell epitopes.

Methods

After in vitro culture of blood mono-nucleated cells from grass-pollen-allergic subjects with specific Pooideae antigenic epitopes, dual tetramer staining with APC-labelled DR04:01/Phleum pratense tetramers and PE-labelled DR04:01/Pooideae grass homolog tetramers was assessed to identify cross-reactivity among allergen-specific DR04:01-restricted T-cells in six subjects. Direct ex vivo staining enabled the comparison of frequency and phenotype of different Pooideae grass-pollen reactive T-cells. Intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assays were also used to examine phenotypes of these T-cells.

Results

T-cells with various degrees of cross-reactive profiles could be detected. Poa p 1 97–116, Lol p 1 221–240, Lol p 5a 199–218, and Poa p 5a 199–218 were identified as minimally cross-reactive T-cell epitopes that do not show cross-reactivity to Phl p 1 and Phl p 5a epitopes. Ex vivo tetramer staining assays demonstrated T-cells that recognized these minimally cross-reactive T-cell epitopes are present in Grass-pollen-allergic subjects.

Conclusions

Our results suggest that not all Pooideae grass epitopes with sequence homology are cross-reactive. Non-cross-reactive T-cells with comparable frequency, phenotype and functionality to Phl p-specific T-cells suggest that a multiple allergen system should be considered for immunotherapy instead of a mono-allergen system.

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