T cell-mediated oral tolerance is intact in germ-free mice


Kristen Walton, Department of Medicine, 7317 MBRB, CB♯7032, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599–7032, USA.
E-mail: kristen_williams@med.unc.edu


Commensal enteric bacteria stimulate innate immune cells and increase numbers of lamina propria and mesenteric lymph node (MLN) T and B lymphocytes. However, the influence of luminal bacteria on acquired immune function is not understood fully. We investigated the effects of intestinal bacterial colonization on T cell tolerogenic responses to oral antigen compared to systemic immunization. Lymphocytes specific for ovalbumin–T cell receptor (OVA–TCR Tg+) were transplanted into germ-free (GF) or specific pathogen-free (SPF) BALB/c mice. Recipient mice were fed OVA or immunized subcutaneously with OVA peptide (323–339) in complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). Although the efficiency of transfer was less in GF recipients, similar proportions of cells from draining peripheral lymph node (LN) or MLN were proliferating 3–4 days later in vivo in GF and SPF mice. In separate experiments, mice were fed tolerogenic doses of OVA and then challenged with an immunogenic dose of OVA 4 days later. Ten days after immunization, lymphocytes were restimulated with OVA in vitro to assess antigen-specific proliferative responses. At both high and low doses of OVA, cells from both SPF and GF mice fed OVA prior to immunization had decreased proliferation compared to cells from control SPF or GF mice. In addition, secretion of interferon (IFN)-γ and interleukin (IL)-10 by OVA–TCR Tg+ lymphocytes was reduced in both SPF and GF mice fed OVA compared to control SPF or GF mice. Unlike previous reports indicating defective humoral responses to oral antigen in GF mice, our results indicate that commensal enteric bacteria do not enhance the induction of acquired, antigen-specific T cell tolerance to oral OVA.