• asthma;
  • occupational diseases;
  • rhinitis;
  • sputum;
  • T cells

Background:  Allergic asthma and rhinitis are described as associated with a Th2 activation. However, recent works indicate that a Th1 activation can also be associated with these diseases, concomitantly to a defect in regulatory T (Treg) cell activation. Occupational asthma (OA) and occupational rhinitis (OR) are peculiar cases of these diseases in which the T-cell activation profile is largely unknown.

Objective:  To characterize T-cell activation induced after a specific inhalation test (SIT) in OA and OR.

Material and methods:  A total of 21 subjects with OA, 10 subjects with OR, 10 exposed nonallergic (ENA) subjects, and 14 healthy volunteers were included. The SIT with the incriminated substance was performed in patients and ENA subjects. Blood and induced sputum were obtained before and after SIT. T cells were analysed for CD69, CD25, IL-13, and IFN-γ expression by flow cytometry. IL-4 and IFN-γ were assayed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in cell culture supernatants. Treg cells were identified as CD4+CD25+highCD45RO+CD69 T cells in peripheral blood.

Results:  Baseline IFN-γ production was decreased in OA and OR compared with controls. The SIT induced an increase in both Th1 and Th2 cells in blood and sputum from OA. In this group, the proportion of peripheral Treg cells decreased after SIT. Similar results were found in the CD8+ population. ELISA assays were concordant with flow cytometry. In OR, an attenuated activation profile was found, with an increase in the proportion of IL-13-producing T cells after SIT. By contrast, in ENA subjects, SIT induced Th2 activation, with an increase in Treg cells and a decrease in Th1 cells.

Conclusions:  Our results demonstrate a gradient of T-cell activation from a tolerating profile in ENA subjects to an inflammatory profile in OA, with an intermediate stage in OR.