Open Access Research article

Characterisation of CD154+ T cells following ex vivo allergen stimulation illustrates distinct T cell responses to seasonal and perennial allergens in allergic and non-allergic individuals

Karen A Smith1, Nicola J Gray2, Femi Saleh4, Elizabeth Cheek3, Anthony J Frew2, Florian Kern1 and Michael D Tarzi14*

Author Affiliations

1 Brighton and Sussex Medical School, division of clinical medicine, pathogen-host-interactions group, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9PS, UK

2 Department of Respiratory Medicine, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton BN2 5BE, UK

3 Department of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Brighton, Brighton BN2 4GJ, UK

4 Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9PX, UK

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BMC Immunology 2013, 14:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-14-49

Published: 5 November 2013



Allergic sensitisation has been ascribed to a dysregulated relationship between allergen-specific Th1, Th2 and regulatory T cells. We sought to utilise our short-term CD154 detection method to further analyse the relationship between these T cell subsets and investigate differences between seasonal and perennial allergens. Using peripheral blood samples from grass-allergic, cat-allergic and healthy non-atopic subjects, we compared the frequencies and phenotype of CD154-positive T helper cells following stimulation with seasonal (grass) and perennial (cat dander) allergens.


We identified a higher frequency of CD154+ T cells in grass-allergic individuals compared to healthy controls; this difference was not evident following stimulation with cat allergen. Activated Th1, Th2 and Tr1-like cells, that co-express IFN╬│, IL4 and IL10, respectively, were identified in varying proportions in grass-allergic, cat-allergic and non-allergic individuals. We confirmed a close correlation between Th1, Th2 and Tr1-like cell frequency in non-allergic volunteers, such that the three parameters increased together to maintain a low Th2: Th1 ratio. This relationship was dysregulated in grass-allergic individuals with no correlation between the T cell subsets and a higher Th2: Th1 ratio. We confirmed previous reports of a late-differentiated T cell phenotype in response to seasonal allergens compared to early-differentiated T cell responses to perennial allergens.


The findings confirm our existing work illustrating an important balance between Th1, Th2 and Tr1-like responses to allergens in health, where Th2 responses are frequently observed, but balanced by Th1 and regulatory responses. We confirm previous tetramer-based reports of phenotypic differences in T cells responding to seasonal and perennial allergens.

Allergen-specific T cell; Cat dander allergy; CD154; Grass pollen allergy; ex vivo phenotyping; Flow cytometry