Background: Recent advances in allergy research mostly focussed on two major headings: improving protein allergen purification, which is aimed towards a better characterization of IgE- and T-cell reactive epitopes, and the potential new role for unconventional innate and regulatory T cells in controlling airway inflammation. These advancements could appear to be in conflict each other, as innate T cells have a poorly-defined antigen specificity that is often directed toward nonprotein substances, such as lipids.
Method: To reconcile these contrasting findings, the model of cypress pollinosis as paradigmatic for studying allergic diseases in adults is suggested.
Results: The biochemical characterization of major native protein allergens from undenatured pollen grain demonstrated that the most relevant substance with IgE-binding activity is a glycohydrolase enzyme, which easily denaturizes in stored grains. Moreover, lipids from the pollen membrane are implicated in early pollen grain capture and recognition by CD1(+) dendritic cells (DC) and CD1-restricted T lymphocytes. These T cells display Th0/Th2 functional activity and are also able to produce regulatory cytokines, such as IL-10 and TGF-beta. CD1(+) immature DCs expand in the respiratory mucosa of allergic subjects and are able to process both proteins and lipids.
Conclusion: A final scenario may suggest that expansion and functional activation of CD1(+) DCs is a key step for mounting a Th0/Th2-deviated immune response, and that such innate response does not confer long-lasting protective immunity.