American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp 281–294 | Cite as

The Potential Role of Allergen-Specific Sublingual Immunotherapy in Atopic Dermatitis

Leading Article


Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease associated with increasing prevalence, morbidity, and cost in developed Western countries. Frequently associated with respiratory allergy during adulthood, atopic dermatitis often represents the first phenotypic appearance of atopy in early childhood when the allergic ‘march’ starts and progressively moves toward food allergy, asthma, and rhinitis.

At present, a consistent body of evidence supports the view that atopic dermatitis may represent the skin compartmentalization of a systemic allergic inflammation. Lymphocytes infiltrating early lesional skin express a T helper (Th) 2 pattern of cytokine secretion (increased levels of interleukin [IL]-4 and/or IL-13 and decreased levels of interferon-γ) as well as the typical Th2-type chemokine receptor CCR4, specific to the thymus and activation-regulated chemokines. Keratinocytes from patients with atopic dermatitis produce thymic stromal lymphopoietin, a novel cytokine that supports the early lymphocyte development in mouse models, and activates dendritic cells involved in the pathogenesis of allergic diseases in humans. Increased levels of circulating hemopoietic precursor cells have been reported in atopic dermatitis, as in allergic asthma and rhinitis. Furthermore, the recognition of CD34+ hemopoietic precursor cells, and evidence for cellular differentiation/ maturational events occurring within atopic dermatitis skin lesion infiltrates, are consistent with the recent reinterpretation of the Th2/Th1 paradigm, where Th2 cells appear to belong to the early stages and Th1 to the ultimate stages of a linear, rather than divergent, pattern of lymphoid differentiation.

This more detailed understanding of the immunologic derangements contributing to the atopic dermatitis pathogenesis has led to growing interest in allergen-specific immunotherapy for the disease. Due to the complexity intrinsic to atopic dermatitis and the lack of consensus-based guidelines for standardized outcome measure, only eight studies are available in the literature for a qualitative evaluation of this treatment approach. Two of these studies were double blind and placebo controlled, and six were cohort studies. Immunotherapy was found to be effective in one controlled study and five observational reports. Uncertain results were provided by one low-powered, controlled study, and negative outcomes were raised by a unique study performed with oral immunotherapy, which is not an effective route of mucosal allergen administration.

Thus, more efficacy studies are required before immunotherapy could be recommended for the routine treatment of atopic dermatitis. Allergen-specific sublingual immunotherapy, given its excellent safety profile and ability to interfere with the systemic aspects of allergic inflammation, appears a good potential candidate for the pathogenetic treatment of the disease.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SSD Allergy and Clinical Immunology Operative UnitAUSL TA1 SS Annunziata Hospital, via BrunoTarantoItaly

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