Background: T cells are known to play a major role in the pathogenesis of atopic allergic asthma, but it is less clear whether they are involved in occupational asthma caused by low molecular weight chemicals such as plicatic acid. Objectives: We sought to determine whether peripheral blood T cells from patients with western red cedar asthma (WRCA) recognize plicatic acid (PA) conjugated to human serum albumin (HSA) as judged by proliferation or cytokine production and to analyze the response to PA inhalation with flow cytometry. Results: Significant proliferative responses to PA-HSA were observed in eight of 33 patients with WRCA, none of 10 exposed nonasthmatic cedar workers, and one of 18 nonasthmatic control subjects. Two of 25 patients with WRCA also showed proliferative responses to unconjugated PA. All the WRCA responders were either currently exposed to cedar or had ceased exposure within the preceding 2 years. None of the four patients receiving oral steroids responded, but inhaled steroids did not seem to influence responsiveness. No correlations were found between the maximum stimulation response and any of the current FEV1 values, the current PC20 methacholine values, or the magnitude of the late asthmatic response to PA. Peripheral blood T-cell subset proportions and their degree of activation were similar in patients with WRCA and exposed control subjects. There was no change in T-cell phenotypes or their activation markers after PA inhalation challenge. In vitro, PA-HSA stimulation did not affect subset ratios but led to release of small amounts of IL-5 and IFN-γ, with no detectable increase in IL-4. Conclusions: PA-HSA-specific T lymphocytes seem to be present in small numbers in the peripheral blood of patients with WRCA and may respond to antigenic exposure by producing IFN-γ and IL-5. However, the proportion of responding cells would appear to be lower than in comparable studies of atopic asthma.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported by grants from the Medical Research Council of Canada and the British Columbia Lung Association. Dr. Anthony J. Frew is supported by the UK National Asthma Campaign.
- Cell-mediated immunity
- Flow cytometry
- Immediate hypersensitivity
- Occupational asthma