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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1029:1-8.

Oral tolerance: overview and historical perspectives.

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Department of Immunology and Bacteriology, University of Glasgow, Western Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.


Oral tolerance was first detailed almost 100 years ago, and since then, it has been shown repeatedly that feeding a wide variety of nonpathogenic antigens can inhibit subsequent systemic immune responses. All systemic immune responses are susceptible, but the degree and scope of the suppression depends on the nature and dose of the fed antigen. Oral tolerance has been described in most mammals, including humans, and it may be the homeostatic mechanism that prevents hypersensitivity to food antigens, as is found in celiac disease. A similar process may prevent the aberrant immune responses to commensal bacteria that occur in inflammatory bowel disease. The ability of oral tolerance to modulate experimental models of autoimmune and inflammatory disease has led to clinical trials in such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type I diabetes, with only variable success. Despite intense research, the exact mechanisms responsible for the systemic tolerance and the reasons why tolerance is the default response to many fed antigens remain controversial. Early studies suggested that CD8(+) "suppressor" T cells were important, but it is now accepted that it may involve either anergy/deletion of CD4(+) T cells, or the induction of regulatory CD4(+) T cells that produce IL-10 and/or TGFbeta. There may also be a role for CD4(+) CD25(+) T(reg), but how and when all these different mechanisms operate is still unclear. The ability of fed antigens to induce tolerance probably reflects their uptake by "quiescent" antigen-presenting cells in the intestine, with presentation to specific CD4(+) T cells in the absence of costimulation, or with the involvement of inhibitory costimulatory molecules. Dendritic cells in the Peyer's patches or mucosal lamina propria are the most likely APCs involved, but it remains to be determined exactly where these interactions occur and what the precise nature of the relevant dendritic cells is.

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