09. June 2017

Allergen-specific immunotherapy: Carrots and sticks for the immune system

v.r.n.l.: PD Dr. Simon Blank, Prof. Dr. Carsten Schmidt-Weber; Quelle: Helmholtz Zentrum München

The active substance Tofacitinib facilitates hyposensitization in the treatment of allergic asthma. This discovery was made by scientists at the Center of Allergy and Environment (ZAUM), a joint research institution of the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The findings of their research have now been published in the PLOS ONE Journal.

People who suffer from allergies have access to symptomatic medication as well as to allergen-specific immunotherapy (also known as hyposensitization* or desensitization). “Although allergen immunotherapy – unlike anti-histamines or steroids – holds promise of a long-term improvement in symptoms, the success rates are still not always satisfactory,” explains Prof. Carsten Schmidt-Weber, Director of ZAUM. “Furthermore, in some cases it can also cause unwanted side-effects, which can make treatment even more difficult.”

Prof. Schmidt-Weber and his team are therefore looking for ways to support the immune system in restoring tolerance to the allergen. One idea proposed by the researchers is to administer the allergen simultaneously with active substances that suppress the immune response. While the active substance calms down the immune system, the allergen causes it to go haywire – a case of carrots and sticks.

Rheumatism drug improves the effect of hyposensitization

In the current study the scientists tested Tofacitinib. This active substance was administered 48 hours before and 48 hours after the allergen in a mouse model for allergic asthma. “In many countries, Tofacitinib is already used in the treatment of rheumatism. It interrupts the signaling pathway via the so-called Janus kinases, which generally play an important role in inflammation,” explains PD Dr. Simon Blank, research group leader at ZAUM.
The scientists were in fact able to observe that the inflammatory response subsided during immunotherapy when Tofacitinib was administered at the same time. The number of immune cells in the lung fell significantly, and there was a decline in various inflammatory markers.

The allergy researchers hope that by using this method they will be able to further improve the efficacy of immune therapy in the future. “With some allergens such as bee and wasp venom, hyposensitization is already very effective. In the case of many other allergens such as mites or pollen, there is still a considerable way to go – but our study could be a first step in that direction,” says Schmidt-Weber, assessing the results.

Original publication:
Aguilar-Pimentel, A. et al. (2017): Improved Efficacy of Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy by JAK Inhibition in a Murine Model of Allergic Asthma. PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178563