Background: Mucosal tolerance induction is suggested as treatment strategy for allergic diseases. Using a murine model of birch pollen (BP) allergy we investigated the long-term efficacy and the underlying mechanisms of mucosal tolerance induction with two structurally different molecules in a prophylactic and in a therapeutic set-up.
Methods: The three-dimensional major BP allergen Bet v 1 or a nonconformational hypoallergenic fragment thereof was intranasally applied before (prophylaxis) or after sensitization (therapy).
Results: In the prophylactic application both the Bet v 1 allergen and the fragment prevented allergic sensitization, and this effect lasted for 1 year. In the therapeutic approach established allergic immune responses were also suppressed after treatment with either of the molecules. However, a long-lasting curative effect (6 months) was only achieved with the Bet v 1 allergen but not with the Bet v 1 fragment.
Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of splenocytes revealed that tolerance induction with the Bet v 1 allergen was associated with enhanced expression of transforming growth factor (TGF)-β, interleukin (IL)-10, and Foxp3 mRNA in CD4+ T cells, whereas treatment with the fragment led to the induction of either Foxp3 (prophylaxis) or IL-10 (therapy) alone.
Conclusion: From these data we concluded (i) that the mechanisms underlying peripheral tolerance are linked to the conformation of the antigen, (ii) that mucosal tolerance is mediated by separate regulatory cell subsets, and (iii) that the long-term efficacy of immunosuppression is associated with the presence of Foxp3+ T cells.