Sublingual allergen immunotherapy: mode of action and its relationship with the safety profile

Allergy. 2012 Mar;67(3):302-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2011.02761.x. Epub 2011 Dec 12.


Allergen immunotherapy reorients inappropriate immune responses in allergic patients. Sublingual allergen immunotherapy (SLIT) has been approved, notably in the European Union, as an effective alternative to subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy (SCIT) for allergic rhinitis patients. Compared with SCIT, SLIT has a better safety profile. This is possibly because oral antigen-presenting cells (mostly Langerhans and myeloid dendritic cells) exhibit a tolerogenic phenotype, despite constant exposure to danger signals from food and microbes. This reduces the induction of pro-inflammatory immune responses leading to systemic allergic reactions. Oral tissues contain relatively few mast cells and eosinophils (mostly located in submucosal areas) and, in comparison with subcutaneous tissue, are less likely to give rise to anaphylactic reactions. SLIT-associated immune responses include the induction of circulating, allergen-specific Th1 and regulatory CD4+ T cells, leading to clinical tolerance. Although 40-75% of patients receiving SLIT experience mild, transient local reactions in the oral mucosa, these primary reactions rarely necessitate dose reduction or treatment interruption. We discuss 11 published case reports of anaphylaxis (all nonfatal) diagnosed according to the World Allergy Organization criteria and relate this figure to the approximately 1 billion SLIT doses administered worldwide since 2000. Anaphylaxis risk factors associated with SCIT and/or SLIT should be characterized further.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Allergens / administration & dosage
  • Allergens / adverse effects*
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Anaphylaxis / etiology
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / adverse effects*
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Mucosa / immunology
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / immunology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / immunology
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Allergens
  • Plant Extracts