Background: The allergen-induced activation and expansion of IL-4 producing T helper type 2 (Th2) cells is a key event in the initiation and progression of allergic disease. Intriguingly, concomitant early childhood staphylococcal skin infections are being increasingly implicated in the allergen-induced switch of primary T cell responses towards the Th2 phenotype.
Objective: We sought to identify whether or not staphylococcal-derived superantigen can influence the primary T cell response in the skin to food allergens with a view to determining whether such exposures create the immune pathology that predisposes to the development of food allergy.
Methods: Using a novel Th2 reporter model, we determined the ability of the staphylococcal superantigen (SEB) to influence priming in the skin of IL-4 expressing Th2 cells by peanut extract (PE). Factors including the effect of SEB on the magnitude of the Th2 response in the skin draining lymph nodes, T cell receptor V region usage and the influence of endotoxin were evaluated.
Results: Primary exposure to PE and SEB lead to significantly enhanced PE specific Th2 responses when the mice were subsequently exposed to PE alone. The enhancement of the Th2 response was dependent on the Vβ-binding properties of the SEB, but was not affected by endotoxin-mediated TLR-4 effects or strain differences in the mice.
Conclusions and clinical relevance: These results identify that in the skin environment, the presence of SEB can significantly increase the numbers of allergen-induced Th2 cells which develop in response to subsequent allergen exposure. These data highlight the process by which individuals may become pathologically sensitized to food allergens in early life.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.