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Clin Exp Immunol. 1991 Sep;85(3):441-5.

Reduced frequency of nickel allergy upon oral nickel contact at an early age.

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Department of Pathology, Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


From animal studies we know that oral administration of T-dependent antigens before sensitization effectively induces systemic immune unresponsiveness. Such 'oral tolerance' is persistent, dose-dependent, antigen-specific and presumably T suppressor cell-mediated. Oral tolerance induction could be an effective way to prevent undesired T cell-mediated immune functions, such as playing a role in allograft reaction, autoimmune and allergic diseases. In the present study allergic contact hypersensitivity (ACH) to nickel, currently presenting the most frequent contact allergy in man, was chosen to establish the feasibility of oral prevention of undesired T cell-mediated immunity in man. Potentially tolerizing (oral nickel contacts via orthodontic braces) as well as sensitizing (ear piercing) events were studied retrospectively in 2176 patients attending nine European patch test clinics. Patients were interviewed by means of a confidential questionnaire. The results show that ear piercing strongly favoured development of nickel ACH. More importantly, patients having had oral contacts with nickel-releasing appliances (dental braces) at an early age, but only if prior to ear piercing, showed a reduced frequency of nickel hypersensitivity. Frequencies of other hypersensitivities, in particular to fragrance, were not affected. These results support our view that induction of specific systemic immunologic tolerance by timely oral administration of antigens is feasible in man.

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