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Allergen provocation increases TH2-cytokines and FOXP3 expression in the asthmatic lung


Guro Gafvelin, Department of Medicine, Clinical Immunology and Allergy Unit, Karolinska Institute, Karolinska University Hospital, L2:04, SE-17176 Stockholm, Sweden.*Shared first authorship


To cite this article: Thunberg S, Gafvelin G, Nord M, Grönneberg R, Grunewald J, Eklund A, van Hage M. Allergen provocation increases TH2-cytokines and FOXP3 expression in the asthmatic lung. Allergy 2010; 65: 311–318.


Background:  Allergic asthma is caused by allergen-specific IgE and T-helper cell (Th) type 2 responses towards airborne allergens. The objective of this study was to investigate local and systemic regulatory mechanisms in the early asthmatic response to bronchial allergen provocation.

Methods:  Birch pollen-allergic patients with mild asthma (n = 13) and healthy nonallergic controls (n = 14) were subjected to bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and blood sampling. On patients BAL was performed twice: without preceding provocation (‘before samples’) and 24 h after bronchial provocation with birch pollen allergen. Lymphocytes in BAL and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were phenotyped by multi-colour flow cytometry and cytokines measured by cytometric bead array. Proliferation and secreted cytokines were analysed in allergen-stimulated PBMCs, CD25+ depleted PBMCs and PBMCs with IL-10 neutralizing antibodies.

Results:  The numbers of CD69+ and FOXP3+ lymphocytes were higher in BAL after compared with before allergen provocation in asthmatic patients. Moreover, allergen provocation increased expression of FOXP3 in CD4+CD25bright cells. The cytokine profile in BAL fluid from asthmatics revealed higher levels of IL-5, compared with the controls, and an increase in IL-5, IL-6, IL-9 and IL-10 after allergen provocation. Pollen allergen stimulated PBMC cultures from asthmatic patients produced elevated levels of IL-5 and IL-13 compared with the controls, which were not affected by depletion of CD25+ cells or IL-10 neutralization.

Conclusion:  Despite an increase in CD4+CD25bright cells expressing high levels of FOXP3 in response to bronchial allergen provocation, asthmatic patients exhibit enhanced levels of Th2 cytokines in the lung, which may indicate an inability among infiltrating cells to suppress Th2 responses.