Treatment of autoimmune disease by oral tolerance to autoantigens

Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1996 Sep;80(3 Pt 2):S31-9. doi: 10.1006/clin.1996.0139.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic demyelinating disease of the human central nervous system (CNS) which can be characterized clinically by a remitting-relapsing or a chronic progressive course. There is a striking similarity between the clinical and histopathological features of MS and the experimentally induced disease, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Induced by the injection of myelin basic protein (MBP) and adjuvants, EAE is characterized by clinical neurologic signs of paralysis and histopathologic changes consisting of perivascular mononuclear infiltration and demyelination. We have reported that the oral administration of MBP exerts a profoundly suppressive effect on EAE induced in the Lewis rat. This MBP-induced oral tolerance is characterized by an inhibition of EAE clinical neurologic signs, reduced CNS histopathologic changes, a profound decrease in the T-lymphocyte proliferative response specific for the fed antigen, and a decrease in serum antibody specific for MBP. In a chronic relapsing model of EAE in the B10.PL mouse, we have shown that the oral administration of MBP either prior to MBP challenge or on the first day of clinical signs results in a decreased number and severity of EAE relapses. The oral tolerance approach has also proven effective in the suppression of other organ-specific autoimmune diseases including collagen-induced arthritis, adjuvant arthritis, uveoretinitis, experimental myasthenia gravis, diabetes, and thyroiditis as well as graft rejection. Two primary mechanisms have been proposed to explain oral tolerance in EAE-active suppression following feeding of lower doses of antigen and clonal anergy or deletion following administration of higher doses. In vivo approaches in rats and transgenic mice have been used to further explore the mechanisms underlying oral tolerance. Administration of recombinant interleukin (IL)-2 was shown to reverse the tolerance induced by feeding low doses of MBP, but not the tolerance induced by feeding high doses of MBP, indicating that deletion had occurred in the high-dose group. Moreover, the oral administration of MBP to MBP-specific T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice resulted in a profound decrease of the transgenic T cells in the blood, lymph node cells (LNC), mesenteric LNC, and spleen compartments. The proliferative response to MBP was also profoundly reduced in these organs, indicating that the cells had been deleted from these sites. The results achieved in animal models have led to clinical trials of oral tolerization in three human autoimmune diseases--MS, uveoretinitis, and rheumatoid arthritis--with promising results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoantigens / pharmacology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / immunology
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance*
  • Immunotherapy
  • Mice
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy
  • Rats


  • Autoantigens