Purpose of review: This review examines recent articles on the relationship of cytokines to allergy and asthma with particular emphasis on immune mechanisms involved in disease development in early life.
Recent findings: It was previously proposed that reduced microbial exposure in early life is responsible for a shift of the Th1/Th2 balance in the immune system towards the proallergenic Th2 response. This Th1/Th2 imbalance results in the clinical expression of allergy and/or asthma. In recent years, accumulating data from mice and humans have identified Th2 cytokines [interleukin (IL)-4, IL-13, and IL-5] as major contributors to allergy and asthma. Interestingly, the Th1 cytokine interferon-gamma has recently been shown to act concurrently with Th2 cytokines in maintaining the chronic inflammatory response in allergic diseases, particularly in asthmatic airways. Most recently, evidence suggests that suppression of T-regulatory cells may contribute to the underlying immune mechanisms involved in allergy and asthma.
Summary: An enhanced Th2 immune response and the elaboration of cytokines such as IL-4, IL-13, and IL-5 contribute to the induction of allergy and asthma. Interferon-gamma, a Th1 cytokine, acts in conjunction with Th2 (IL-4, IL-13, and IL-5) in maintaining chronic allergic inflammation. The mechanisms leading to an enhanced Th2 response are still controversial. Th2-dominated immune responses may result from immune suppression of T-regulatory cells as well as Th1 cells. Understanding early-life immune mechanisms responsible for atopic diseases, specifically how cytokines of T-regulatory cells act to balance the Th1 and Th2 immune response, continues to be a fruitful area of research.