Follicular helper T cells mediate IgE antibody response to airborne allergens

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017 Jan;139(1):300-313.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.04.021. Epub 2016 May 18.


Background: TH2 cells have long been believed to play a pivotal role in allergic immune responses, including IgE antibody production and type 2 cytokine-mediated inflammation and pathology. A new T-cell subset, follicular helper T (TFH) cells, is specialized in supporting B-cell maturation and antibody production.

Objective: We sought to investigate the roles of TFH cells in allergic immune responses.

Methods: Naive mice were exposed to cytokines or natural allergens through the airways. Development of allergic immune responses was analyzed by collecting draining lymph nodes and sera and by challenging the animals. Cytokine reporter mice and gene-deficient mice were used to dissect the immunologic mechanisms.

Results: We observed the development of IL-4-producing TFH cells and TH2 cells in draining lymph nodes after airway exposure to IL-1 family cytokines or natural allergens. TFH and TH2 cells demonstrated unique phenotypes, tissue localization, and cytokine responses. TFH cells supported the sustained production of IgE antibody in vivo in the absence of other T-cell subsets or even when TH2 cell functions were severely compromised. Conversely, conditional deficiency of the master regulator Bcl6 in CD4+ T cells resulted in a marked reduction in TFH cell numbers and IgE antibody levels, but type 2 cytokine responses and eosinophilic inflammation in the airways remained unaffected.

Conclusion: TFH cells play critical roles in the regulation of IgE antibody production. Allergic immune responses to airborne allergens likely involve 2 distinct subsets of IL-4-producing CD4+ T cells, namely TFH and Th2 cells.

Keywords: Follicular T cells; IL-4; IgE; T(H)2 cells; allergens; allergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / immunology*
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / cytology
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / immunology
  • Cell Count
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Female
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology*
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Lung / immunology
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Ovalbumin / immunology
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Allergens
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • Ovalbumin