Background Allergic rhinitis (AR) is a typical type I allergic disease that occurs through the induction of allergen-specific effector T cells. Once established, new effector T cells derive mostly from memory T cells that are capable of surviving for extended periods, although the mechanisms by which these memory functions are maintained have not yet been clarified. In particular, the exact life-span of memory T cells is still not well understood.
Objective Pollinosis patients seemed to be suitable subjects to investigate because such patients are exposed to antigens strongly for only a limited period once a year. We compared the seasonal changes in memory T-helper type 2 (Th2) between pollinosis and perennial allergic subjects.
Methods The clone sizes of the Japanese cedar pollen-specific memory Th cells were measured by an ELISPOT assay using specific peptides from the patients with cedar pollinosis, and the seasonal changes were noted. This study was performed for 2 years. The cedar-specific IgE levels in the peripheral blood were also studied. Mite allergy patients were also enrolled in the study.
Results The Japanese cedar-specific IL-4-producing Th2 cells were detected in all patients examined, although the number of cells was low. These Th memory cells increased during the pollen season and decreased during the off-season. However, more than 60% of the cedar-specific memory Th2 cells survived up to 8 months after the pollen season. The cedar-specific IgE levels exhibited changes similar to the cedar-specific Th cells. On the other hand, there was no drifting of Th memory clone size with the mite allergics, and the IgE levels also did not change.
Conclusions While pollen-specific Th cells decreased after pollen exposure, their memory functions continued. Memory clone size maintenance therefore requires repetitive antigen irritation.