Subjects with allergic asthma develop isolated late asthmatic reactions after inhalation of allergen‐derived T cell peptides. Animal experiments have shown that airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) is CD4+ cell‐dependent. It is hypothesised that peptide inhalation produces increases in non‐specific AHR and a T cell‐dominant bronchial mucosal inflammatory response.
Bronchoscopy, with bronchial biopsies and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), was performed in 24 subjects with cat allergy 6 h after aerosol inhalation of short overlapping peptides derived from Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Biopsy specimens and BAL fluid were studied using immunohistochemistry and ELISA.
Twelve of the 24 subjects developed an isolated late asthmatic reaction without a preceding early (mast cell/histamine‐dependent) reaction characteristic of whole allergen inhalation. These responders had significant between‐group differences (responders vs non‐responders) in the changes (peptide vs diluent) in AHR (p = 0.007) and bronchial mucosal CD3+ (p = 0.005), CD4+ (p = 0.006) and thymus‐ and activation‐regulated chemokine (TARC)+ (p = 0.003) but not CD8+ or CD25+ cells or eosinophils, basophils, mast cells and macrophages. The between‐group difference for neutrophils was p = 0.05 but with a non‐significant within‐group value (peptide vs diluent, responders, p = 0.11). In BAL fluid there was a significant between‐group difference in TARC (p = 0.02) but not in histamine, tryptase, basogranulin, C3a or C5a, leukotrienes C4/D4/E4, prostaglandins D2 or F2α.
Direct activation of allergen‐specific airway T cells by peptide inhalation in patients with atopic asthma leads to increased AHR with local increases in CD3+ and CD4+ cells and TARC but no significant changes in eosinophils or basophil/mast cell products. These findings support previous animal experiments which showed a CD4+ dependence for AHR.