Objective: Stress proteins, such as members of the heat-shock protein (HSP) family, are up-regulated by cells in inflamed tissue and can be viewed functionally as "biomarkers" for the immune system to monitor inflammation. Exogenous administration of stress proteins has induced immunoregulation in various models of inflammation and has also been shown to be effective in clinical trials in humans. This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that boosting of endogenous HSP expression can restore effective immunoregulation through T cells specific for stress proteins.
Methods: Stress protein expression was manipulated in vivo and in vitro with a food component (carvacrol), and immune recognition of stress proteins was studied.
Results: Carvacrol, a major compound in the oil of many Origanum species, had a notable capacity to coinduce cellular Hsp70 expression in vitro and, upon intragastric administration, in Peyer's patches of mice in vivo. As a consequence, carvacrol specifically promoted T cell recognition of endogenous Hsp70, as demonstrated in vitro by the activation of an Hsp70-specific T cell hybridoma and in vivo by amplified T cell responses to Hsp70. Carvacrol administration also increased the number of CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ T cells, systemically in the spleen and locally in the joint, and almost completely suppressed proteoglycan-induced experimental arthritis. Furthermore, protection against arthritis could be transferred with T cells isolated from carvacrol-fed mice.
Conclusion: These findings illustrate that a food component can boost protective T cell responses to a self stress protein and down-regulate inflammatory disease, i.e., that the immune system can respond to diet.