Background Clinically effective subcutaneous allergen-specific immunotherapy (SIT) is associated with altered circulating T cell cytokine production and altered local cytokine responses with increased IL-10 following allergen challenge in target organs.
Objective This study aimed to elucidate mechanisms for these T cell changes, by examining surface expression of markers for peripheral tissue trafficking on circulating cytokine-positive T cells following standardized house dust mite- (HDM-) SIT.
Methods A randomized conventional HDM immunotherapy study was performed on a panel of 12 HDM-allergic subjects. Nine subjects received treatment with conventional HDM immunotherapy using a standardized extract and three subjects were treated by standard pharmacotherapy alone. Symptom and medication scores and allergen-induced cutaneous late-phase responses were assessed before and 9 months after institution of therapy. Before and at 3 and 9 months of SIT, peripheral blood mononuclear cells were cultured for 14 days with HDM extract and CD4+ and CD8+ T cell expression of CD62L, CD49d and CCR5 and production of IL-10, IFN-γ and IL-4 were analysed by flow cytometry. Allergen-specific T cell proliferation was assessed by 3H-thymidine incorporation.
Results At 9 months, all SIT-treated patients showed reduced symptom scores and late-phase cutaneous responses to HDM compared with baseline levels. The proportions of CD4+ T cells which were IL-10+ were increased (P<0.01), and the proportions of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells which were IL-4+ decreased (P<0.05) compared with baseline. CD4+ and CD8+ T cell IFN-γ production, expression of surface markers for peripheral tissue trafficking and allergen-specific proliferation remained unchanged during SIT treatment. However, increased proportions of CD4+CD62L−, CD4+CD49dhi, CD4+CCR5+ T cells expressing IL-10 were detected at 9 months of SIT compared with baseline (P<0.05). IL-10 staining co-localized with CD4+CD25+ T cells.
Conclusion Clinically effective subcutaneous immunotherapy with a standardized HDM Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus preparation results in decreased numbers of IL-4+ T cells and expansion of CD4+IL-10+ T cells expressing a peripheral tissue trafficking phenotype. The co-localization of IL-10+ staining to CD4+CD25+ T cells is consistent with the induction of a T regulatory cell population by SIT.