Background: Allergen challenge in allergic rhinitis patients leads to local eosinophilia and Th2-type cytokine expression. Natural exposure to grass pollen is additionally characterized by epithelial mast-cell infiltration. We hypothesized that perennial allergic rhinitis is also associated with T-cell and eosinophil infiltration of the nasal mucosa, local Th2-type cytokine expression, and increased numbers of nasal epithelial mast cells.
Methods: Nasal biopsies from perennial allergic rhinitis patients and controls were analysed by immunocytochemistry for different cell populations and in situ hybridization for cytokine mRNA-expressing cells.
Results: Perennial allergic rhinitis was associated with increased numbers of submucosal CD3+ T cells (P=0.05), EG2+ activated eosinophils (P=0.01), and CD68+ macrophages (P=0.01) compared to controls. Epithelial, but not submucosal, tryptase-positive mast cells were also elevated in rhinitics compared to controls (P=0.01). The numbers of cells expressing interleukin (IL)-5 were higher (P=0.01) and the numbers of cells expressing IL-2 were lower (P=0.04) in rhinitic patients than controls. There were no significant differences for either IL-4 or interferon-gamma between the groups.
Conclusions: Perennial allergic rhinitis is characterized by mast-cell migration into the epithelium; submucosal infiltration by T cells, eosinophils, and macrophages; and an imbalance in local T-cell cytokine production in favour of enhanced IL-5 and reduced IL-2 expression.