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The University of Southampton
Inducing Tolerance in Allergy

Inducing immunosuppression

To achieve long-lasting tolerance, the adaptive immune responses needs to be taught to recognise an allergen not as a danger, but as a safe substance.

It has been recently discovered, skin can be used to regulate body immune responses to pathogens, such as bacteria, or allergens.

Skin as an immune organ

Skin is the largest body organ, and a major site for allergic disease, such as eczema. Forming the interface with the environment, skin plays a vital role protecting the body from the pathogens, environmental insults and xenobiotics. We and others have shown, that skin not only provides effective immune defence, but can also efficiently help to shape body immune responses to allergens.  In order to be able to control immune responses, skin is populated by multiple subsets of immune cells, including Langerhans cells, dendritic cells, macrophages and T lymphocytes.

Regulation of body immune responses by skin immune cells

Dendritic cells (DCs) are special cells in the immune system that can recognise ‘safe’ from ‘dangerous’. When a DC comes into contact with a harmful bacteria or virus, it can sense that it is dangerous. Alarm bells are activated and DCs recruit other immune cells to kill the invaders. Unfortunately in allergy, DCs misidentify ‘safe’ components of our own bodies or harmless substances as ‘dangerous’. This therefore leads to uncontrolled activation of the immune system that attacks areas of our own body. Currently little is known about how DCs in healthy people stop our immune system activating against ‘safe’ ourselves. Our aim is to identify molecular “switches” regulating this ability. Increased understanding of this process could lead to drug development that re-installs DC ability to distinguish ‘friend’ from ‘foe’, therefore preventing allergy.

Investigating immune responses in healthy skin

In the laboratory, we investigate the function of different immune cells in human skin, and we test the potential of different treatments to be used to teach the dendritic cells that allergens are not "foe" or "danger".

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