Antigen-specific B cell responses to mucosally delivered proteins are dependent upon CD4-positive T helper (Th) cells, and the frequency of Th1 and Th2 cell responses after oral immunization may determine the level and isotype of mucosal antibody responses. We have used a protein-based vaccine, tetanus toxoid (TT), together with the mucosal adjuvant cholera toxin (CT), for oral immunization of mice to study the nature of antigen-specific Th cell subsets induced in Peyer's patches (PP) of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and in the spleen (SP) during peak antibody responses. Mice orally immunized with TT and CT responded with antigen-specific secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) antibodies in the GI tract, and with both IgG and IgA antibody responses in serum. PP and SP CD4+ T cells from mice orally immunized with TT plus CT were cultured with antigen-coated latex microspheres for induction of proliferative responses and for enumeration of cytokine producing CD4+ T cells. Interestingly, both PP and SP CD4+ T cell cultures showed increased numbers of IL-4- and IL-5 (Th2-type)-producing, spot-forming cells (SFCs) after 21 d of immunization, while essentially no interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) or IL-2 (Th1-type) SFCs were noted. Cytokine-specific Northern blots and RT-PCR also revealed that significant IL-4 and IL-5 mRNA levels, but not IFN-gamma or IL-2 mRNA, were present in CD4+ T cells isolated from antigen-stimulated cultures. However, systemic immunization with TT and CT induced antigen-specific IgG and IgM but not IgA antibodies in serum. Further, both IL-2 and IFN-gamma-producing Th1-type cells as well as IL-4- and IL-5-secreting Th2-type cells were generated in SP. Our results show that oral immunization with TT and the mucosal adjuvant CT selectively induced antigen-specific Th2-type responses which may represent the major helper cell phenotype involved in mucosal IgA responses in the GI tract.

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