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Allergen-specific antibody and cytokine responses, mast cell reactivity and intestinal permeability upon oral challenge of sensitized and tolerized mice


Blaise Corthésy, R & D Laboratory of the Division of Immunology and Allergy, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Rue du Bugnon, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Background Food allergy has reached an epidemic level in westernized countries and although central mechanisms have been described, the variability associated with genetic diversity underscores the still unresolved complexity of these disorders.

Objective To develop models of food allergy and oral tolerance, both strictly induced by the intestinal route, and to compare antigen-specific responses.

Methods BALB/c mice were mucosally sensitized to ovalbumin (OVA) in the presence of the mucosal adjuvant cholera toxin, or tolerized by intra-gastric administrations of OVA alone. Antibody titres and cytokines were determined by ELISA, and allergic status was determined through several physiologic parameters including decline in temperature, diarrhoea, mast cell degranulation and intestinal permeability.

Results OVA-specific antibodies (IgE, IgGs and IgA in serum and feces) were produced in sensitized mice exclusively. Upon intra-gastric challenge with OVA, sensitized mice developed anaphylactic reactions associated with a decline of temperature, diarrhoea, degranulation of mast cells, which were only moderately recruited in the small intestine, and increased intestinal permeability. Cytokines produced by immune cells from sensitized mice included T-helper type 2 cytokines (IL-5, IL-13), but also IL-10, IFN-γ and IL-17. In contrast, all markers of allergy were totally absent in tolerized animals, and yet the latter were protected from subsequent sensitization, demonstrating that oral tolerance took place efficiently.

Conclusion This work allows for the first time an appropriate comparison between sensitized and tolerized BALB/c mice towards OVA. It highlights important differences from other models of allergy, and thus questions some of the generally accepted notions of allergic reactions, such as the protective role of IFN-γ, the importance of antigen-specific secretory IgA and the role of mucosal mast cells in intestinal anaphylaxis. In addition, it suggests that IL-17 might be an effector cytokine in food allergy. Finally, it demonstrates that intestinal permeability towards the allergen is increased during challenge.

Cite this as: C. Perrier, A.-C. Thierry, A. Mercenier and B. Corthésy, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 153–162.