Regulatory T cells in Allergic Disease - Research Study Summary
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
This study (referenced at the bottom of this article) points out the important role of regulatory T cells in allergic diseases, such as food allergies.
T cells are an immune cell that is part of our adaptive immune system. The adaptive immune system is composed of specialized cells, such as T cells, that have the job of eliminating pathogens in our bodies. (Don't know what a pathogen is? Read this immunology article I wrote).
Regulatory T cells are in charge of controlling our immune system's response to both self (our own cells) and foreign particles. A food protein is a foreign particle for example. These regulatory T cells play an important role in preserving immune tolerance to allergens. This means that regulatory T cells help our bodies tolerate foods rather than have an allergic reaction to the foods.
Regulatory T cells do this by acting directly on mast cells and blocking their degranulation.
The main question is: why do regulatory T cells sometimes fail to maintain tolerance and cause our immune system to produce a hypersensitivity (allergic) reaction?
That means that these cells end up attacking foreign particles such as food proteins that are not actually dangerous to us. This results in mast cell degranulation, leading to an allergic reaction, even though the regulatory T cells are supposed to block mast cell degranulation.
One of the theories discussed in this study is how a pro-allergic environment can skew these regulatory T cells to become pathogenic. Emerging studies emphasize the strong influence that environmental factors have on cells that are already genetically predisposed to disease (in this case allergic reactions). Some of these environmental factors may include diet and antibiotic usage.
The authors of this study were able to demonstrate that in food allergy-prone mice, the microbiome (all of the microbes that live in our gut) exhibited decreased amounts of bacteria from the Firmicutes phylum and increased amounts of bacteria from the Proteobacteria phylum. This constitutes as evidence that food allergy is associated with an altered intestinal microbial flora, in addition to having a genetic predisposition.
The findings of this study open doors to the exploration of therapies that can potentially help re-establish tolerance by promoting stability in our immune system of regulatory T cells.
Title: Regulatory T cells in Allergic Diseases
Authors: Magali Noval Rivas, PhD and Talal A. Chatila, MD, MSc