Mechanisms of Oral Tolerance

Leticia Tordesillas, M. Cecilia Berin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Oral tolerance is a state of systemic unresponsiveness that is the default response to food antigens in the gastrointestinal tract, although immune tolerance can also be induced by other routes, such as the skin or inhalation. Antigen can be acquired directly by intestinal phagocytes, or pass through enterocytes or goblet cell-associated passages prior to capture by dendritic cells (DCs) in the lamina propria. Mucin from goblet cells acts on DCs to render them more tolerogenic. A subset of regulatory DCs expressing CD103 is responsible for delivery of antigen to the draining lymph node and induction of Tregs. These DCs also imprint gastrointestinal homing capacity, allowing the recently primed Tregs to home back to the lamina propria where they interact with macrophages that produce IL-10 and expand. Tregs induced by dietary antigen include Foxp3+ Tregs and Foxp3 Tregs. In addition to Tregs, T cell anergy can also contribute to oral tolerance. The microbiota plays a key role in the development of oral tolerance, through regulation of macrophages and innate lymphoid cells that contribute to the regulatory phenotype of gastrointestinal dendritic cells. Absence of microbiota is associated with a susceptibility to food allergy, while presence of Clostridia strains can suppress development of food allergy through enhancement of Tregs and intestinal barrier function. It is not clear if feeding of antigens can also induce true immune tolerance after a memory immune response has been generated, but mechanistic studies of oral immunotherapy trials demonstrate shared pathways in oral tolerance and oral immunotherapy, with a role for Tregs and anergy. An important role for IgA and IgG antibodies in development of immune tolerance is also supported by studies of oral tolerance in humans. The elucidation of key pathways in oral tolerance could identify new strategies to increase efficacy of immunotherapy treatments for food allergy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-117
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Antigen-presenting cells
  • Food allergy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Microbiota
  • Oral tolerance
  • Regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy


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