Twenty–four patients suffering from grass pollen allergy underwent sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) with standardized grass pollen extract for 1 year. In order to investigate immunological changes induced by the administration of allergens via the oral mucosa, the SLIT–spit method was applied. The cumulative dose of approximately 80 μg of major allergen (grass group 5 allergen), was relatively low. During the time of treatment, we could observe a significant increase in the levels of specific IgG and IgG4 antibodies. However, the titers of allergen–specific IgE antibodies showed a significant increase in the course of SLIT as well. Analyzing lymphoproliferative responses, a significant decrease in reactivity in response to stimulation with complete grass pollen extract (p = 0.001) and to recombinant Phl p 1 (a major allergen of timothy grass, p<0.001) could be observed, indicating the induction of immunological tolerance. Proliferative responses to a control antigen (tetanus toxoid) were not influenced by the treatment. At different time points during SLIT, allergen (Phl p 1)–specific T cell clones (TCC) were established from the peripheral blood of the patients. Cytokine production by allergen–stimulated T cells did not reveal any changes consistent with immune deviation, i.e. the ratio of Th1/Th2 TCC did not change during SLIT. In conclusion, we provide evidence that sublingual treatment leads to systemic changes in immunoreactivity to the administered allergen.
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