Antigen-specific CD4+ T cells play an important role in the allergic immune response to house dust mite (HDM) allergens in humans. The group 1 allergen of Dermatophagoides spp. is a major target antigen in both B and T cell recognition of HDM. In vitro studies have shown that the presentation of peptides to human T cells under appropriate conditions may lead to a state of specific nonresponsiveness. Therefore, to determine if peptides are able to modulate the function of allergen-reactive T cells in vivo, we have used a murine model of T cell recognition of the HDM allergen Der p 1. The results demonstrate that inhalation of low concentrations of peptide containing the major T cell epitope of Der p 1 (residues 111-139), induces tolerance in naive C57BL/6J mice such that they become profoundly unresponsive to an immunogenic challenge with the intact allergen. When restimulated in vitro with antigen, lymph node T cells isolated from tolerant mice secrete very low levels of interleukin 2, proliferative poorly, and are unable to provide cognate help to stimulate specific antibody production. Furthermore, intranasal peptide therapy was able to inhibit an ongoing immune response to the allergen in mice and this has potential implications in the development of allergen-based immunotherapy.

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