Background: IgE synthesis by human B cells results from allergen-dependent, T(H)2-mediated isotype switching. Exposure to a farming environment protects against IgE responses.
Objective: We reconstructed allergen-dependent switching patterns in vivo to identify the level or levels at which farm exposure acts to protect against atopy.
Methods: Serum IgG1 to IgG4 and IgE to grass (rPhl p 1 and rPhl p 5), cat (rFel d 1), and mite (rDer p 2) were assessed by means of ELISA in the Allergy and Endotoxin study population (812 children). Farm exposure was defined as currently living on a farm, exposure to stables/farm milk in the first year of life, or both.
Results: Farm exposure did not affect allergen-specific IgG2 and IgG3 levels but had complex allergen-specific effects on IgG1, IgG4, and IgE levels. Exposure protected against grass-specific responses at every step along the IgG1/IgG4/IgE switching pathway but had no significant effect on mite responses. Protection from cat responses was concentrated at the IgG1 level. For all allergens, failure to express IgG1 was associated with low prevalence of IgG4 or IgE responses. Notably, coexpression of IgG1, IgG4, and IgE to grass was associated with increased risk of allergic disease and higher IgE levels compared with production of IgG1 and IgE without IgG4, suggesting IgG4 coexpression marks stronger activation of T(H)2-dependent events.
Conclusion: The protective effects of farm exposure were confined to T(H)2-dependent IgG1, IgG4, and IgE expression and were allergen and switch stage specific, suggesting that distinct mechanisms regulate individual steps within allergen-induced class switching in vivo.
Clinical implications: Environmental interventions to prevent IgE expression might need to be tailored to specific allergens.