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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007 Apr;119(4):780-91. Epub 2007 Feb 26.

Mechanisms of allergen-specific immunotherapy.

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Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research, Davos, Switzerland.


Allergen-specific immunotherapy (SIT) has been used for almost a century as a desensitizing therapy for allergic diseases and represents the only curative and specific method of treatment. Administration of appropriate concentrations of allergen extracts has been shown to be reproducibly effective when patients are carefully selected. The mechanisms by which allergen-SIT has its effects include the modulation of T-cell and B-cell responses and related antibody isotypes as well as effector cells of allergic inflammation, such as eosinophils, basophils, and mast cells. The balance between allergen-specific T-regulatory (Treg) and T(H)2 cells appears to be decisive in the development of allergic and healthy immune responses against allergens. Treg cells consistently represent the dominant subset specific for common environmental allergens in sensitized healthy individuals. In contrast, there is a high frequency of allergen-specific T(H)2 cells in patients with allergy. The induction of a tolerant state in peripheral T cells represents an essential step in allergen-SIT. Peripheral T-cell tolerance is characterized mainly by generation of allergen-specific Treg cells leading to suppressed T-cell proliferation and T(H)1 and T(H)2 cytokine responses against the allergen. This is accompanied by a significant increase in allergen-specific IgG(4), and also IgG(1) and IgA, and a decrease in IgE in the late stage of the disease. In addition, decreased tissue infiltration of mast cells and eosinophils and their mediator release including circulating basophils takes place. Current understanding of mechanisms of allergen-SIT, particularly the role of Treg cells in peripheral tolerance, may enable novel treatment strategies.

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