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Respir Res. 2000;1(3):129-32. Epub 2000 Oct 25.

Mimicking microbial 'education' of the immune system: a strategy to revert the epidemic trend of atopy and allergic asthma?

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  • 1DASRS, Pomezia (Rome), Italy.


Deficient microbial stimulation of the immune system, caused by hygiene, may underly the atopy and allergic asthma epidemic we are currently experiencing. Consistent with this 'hygiene hypothesis', research on immunotherapy of allergic diseases also centres on bacteria-derived molecules (eg DNA immunostimulatory sequences) as adjuvants for allergen-specific type 1 immune responses. If we understood how certain microbes physiologically 'educate' our immune system to interact safely with environmental nonmicrobial antigens, we might be able to learn to mimic their beneficial actions. Programmed 'immunoeducation' would consist of safe administration, by the correct route, dose and timing, of those microbial stimuli that are necessary to 'train' the developing mucosal immune system and to maintain an appropriate homeostatic equilibrium between its components. Overall, this would result in a prevention of atopy that is not limited to certain specific allergens. Although such a strategy is far beyond our present potential, it may in principle revert the epidemic trend of atopy and allergic asthma without jeopardizing the fight against infectious diseases.

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