Synchronous immune alterations mirror clinical response during allergen immunotherapy

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Abstract

Background

Three years of treatment with either sublingual or subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy has been shown to be effective and to induce long-term tolerance. The Gauging Response in Allergic Rhinitis to Sublingual and Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (GRASS) trial demonstrated that 2 years of treatment through either route was effective in suppressing the response to nasal allergen challenge, although it was insufficient for inhibition 1 year after discontinuation.

Objective

We sought to examine in the GRASS trial the time course of immunologic changes during 2 years of sublingual and subcutaneous immunotherapy and for 1 year after treatment discontinuation.

Methods

We performed multimodal immunomonitoring to assess allergen-specific CD4 T-cell properties in parallel with analysis of local mucosal cytokine responses induced by nasal allergen exposure and humoral immune responses that included IgE-dependent basophil activation and measurement of serum inhibitory activity for allergen-IgE binding to B cells (IgE-facilitated allergen binding).

Results

All 3 of these distinct arms of the immune response displayed significant and coordinate alterations during 2 years of allergen desensitization, followed by reversal at 3 years, reflecting a lack of a durable immunologic effect. Although frequencies of antigen-specific TH2 cells in peripheral blood determined by using HLA class II tetramer analysis most closely paralleled clinical outcomes, IgE antibody–dependent functional assays remained inhibited in part 1 year after discontinuation.

Conclusion

Two years of allergen immunotherapy were effective but insufficient for long-term tolerance. Allergen-specific TH2 cells most closely paralleled the transient clinical outcome, and it is likely that recurrence of the T-cell drivers of allergic immunity abrogated the potential for durable tolerance. On the other hand, the persistence of IgE blocking antibody 1 year after discontinuation might be an early indicator of a protolerogenic mechanism.

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