Mechanisms of oral immunotherapy

Clin Exp Allergy. 2021 Apr;51(4):527-535. doi: 10.1111/cea.13824. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


Food allergy presents a significant global health concern with up to 10% of the population affected in developed nations and a steadily increasing prevalence. In many cases, particularly with peanut, tree nut and shellfish, food allergy is a lifelong and potentially life-threatening diagnosis. While no 'cure' for IgE-mediated food allergy exists, oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a promising treatment modality with the peanut OIT drug Palforzia (Aimmune Therapeutics) the only treatment for food allergy that is currently approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. OIT primarily induces a state of desensitization with only a minority of subjects achieving sustained unresponsiveness, a state of limited clinical remission that appears to be immunologically distinct from natural tolerance. Early humoural changes during OIT include an initial increase in allergen-specific IgE, which eventually decreases to below baseline levels as OIT progresses, and a gradual increase in allergen-specific IgA and IgG4 that continues throughout the course of OIT. Basophil hyporesponsiveness and decreased skin prick test wheal size are observed within the first year of OIT, and persistence after completion of therapy has been associated with sustained unresponsiveness. In the T-cell compartment, there is an initial expansion followed by a decline in the number and activity of T helper 2 (TH 2) cells, the latter of which may be dependent on an expansion of IL-10-producing cells, including regulatory T-cells. Our understanding of the immunomodulatory effects of OIT continues to evolve, with new technologies such as single-cell transcriptional profiling and antibody epitope analysis allowing for more detailed study of T-cell and B-cell responses to OIT. In this review, we present evidence to illustrate what is currently known about the immunologic changes induced by OIT, explore potential mechanisms and emphasize knowledge gaps where future research is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Allergens / therapeutic use
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Basophils / immunology*
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / methods*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology*
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology
  • Mast Cells / immunology*
  • Plasma Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology*


  • Allergens
  • Immunoglobulin E