Background T-helper type 2 (Th2) cells play an important role in the pathogenesis of allergic diseases. Recent studies have demonstrated that allergen-specific T cells can also be found in the blood of healthy individuals. Both IL-10 and IFN-γ might modulate the induction and maintenance of allergen-specific tolerance.
Aim To study the phenotype and functional characteristics of allergen-specific T cells in healthy non-atopic children.
Methods Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 13 symptomatic house dust mite (HDM)-allergic children and from nine matched healthy control children were stimulated with recombinant (r)Der p 2, a major allergen from HDMs.
Results Stimulation with rDer p 2 resulted in Th2 cytokine production in cultures of PBMC from allergic but not from healthy children. In contrast, IL-10 and IFN-γ were induced in PBMC cultures from both healthy and HDM-allergic children. Intracellular staining revealed that IL-10 and IFN-γ are largely produced by the same T cells. Stimulation of T cells from healthy children with rDer p 2 also induced expression of inducible costimulator (ICOS) on a small T cell subset.
Conclusion Allergen-specific memory T cells from healthy non-atopic children produce IL-10 and IFN-γ (but not Th2 cytokines) and express ICOS upon stimulation. These cells might be responsible for a normal immune balance after allergen encounter in non-atopics.