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Immunobiology. 2007;212(6):461-73. Epub 2007 Apr 17.

Mycobacteria and allergies.

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  • 1Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 46 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JF, UK.


Exposure to mycobacteria was inevitable throughout mammalian evolution. Most mycobacteria are saprophytic environmental organisms that are enormously abundant in soil and untreated water and evoke immune responses in the residents of developing countries. A few species are pathogens. For example Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis (TB), infects approximately 1/3 of the world's population. Many individuals also receive vaccination with the Bacille Calmette Guérin (BCG), which is an attenuated form of the organism causing bovine TB. In order to understand the possible role that mycobacteria might have in the increases in allergic disorders over the last decades, it is necessary to dissect out these different mycobacterial influences. Above all it is essential, when analysing tuberculin test results, to distinguish between individuals who have latent TB and those who do not. Only then can probable effects of diverse types of exposure emerge. There is no doubt that in animal models mycobacteria can both prevent and treat allergic responses either by boosting Th1 or by driving allergen-specific regulatory T cells (RegT). Clinical trials in man remain inconclusive.

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