, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 689-702
Date: 21 Jul 2012

Immunological mechanisms for desensitization and tolerance in food allergy

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Abstract

Food allergy is a major public health concern in westernized countries, estimated to affect 5 % of children and 3–4 % of adults. Allergen-specific immunotherapy for food allergy is currently being actively evaluated, but is still experimental. The optimal protocol, in terms of the route of administration of the food, target maintenance dose, and duration of maintenance therapy, and the optimal patient for these procedures are still being worked out. The mechanisms underlying successful food desensitization are also unclear, in part, because there is no standard immunotherapy protocol. The mechanisms involved, however, may include mast cell and basophil suppression, development of food-specific IgG4 antibodies, reduction in the food-specific IgE/IgG4 ratio, up-regulation and expansion of natural or inducible regulatory T cells, a skewing from a Th2 to a Th1 profile, and the development of anergy and/or deletion in antigen-specific cells. Additional studies are required to elucidate and understand these mechanisms by which desensitization and tolerance are achieved, which may reveal valuable biomarkers for evaluating and following food allergic patients on immunotherapy.

This article is published as part of the Special Issue on Food Allergy [34:6].