Oral tolerance: immune mechanisms and the generation of Th3-type TGF-beta-secreting regulatory cells

Microbes Infect. 2001 Sep;3(11):947-54. doi: 10.1016/s1286-4579(01)01456-3.


Oral tolerance is a long recognized method to induce peripheral immune tolerance. Oral tolerance has been used successfully to treat animal models of autoimmune diseases and is being tested in human diseases. Low doses of oral antigen induce active suppression, whereas high doses induce clonal anergy and deletion. Oral antigen preferentially generates a Th2(IL-4/IL-10)- or a Th3(TGF-beta)-type response. Th3-type cells are a unique T-cell subset which primarily secrete TGF-beta, provide help for IgA and have suppressive properties for Th1 and other immune cells. Th3-type cells appear distinct from the Th2 cells as CD4(+) TGF-beta-secreting cells with suppressive properties in the gut have been generated from IL-4-deficient animals. In vitro differentiation of Th3-type cells from Th0 precursors from TCR transgenic mice is enhanced by culture with TGF-beta, IL-4, IL-10 and anti-IL-12. Because regulatory T cells generated by oral antigen are triggered in an antigen-specific fashion but suppress in an antigen-nonspecific fashion, they mediate bystander suppression when they encounter the fed autoantigen at the target organ. Thus, mucosal tolerance can be used to treat inflammatory processes that are not autoimmune in nature. Mucosal antigen has also been used to treat animal models of stroke and of Alzheimer's disease. Induction of low-dose oral tolerance is enhanced by oral administration of IL-4 and IL-10. Coupling antigen to CTB or administration of Flt-3 ligand enhances oral tolerance. Anti-B7.2 but not anti-B7.1 blocks low-dose, but not high-dose oral tolerance. High-dose oral tolerance is blocked by anti-CTLA-4. CD25(+) CD4(+) regulatory T-cell function also appears to be related to TFG-beta.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Autoantigens* / administration & dosage
  • Autoantigens* / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Mice
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*


  • Autoantigens
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta