BACKGROUND: Epicutaneous vaccination has gained increasing interest during the past decade as it offers a safe, needle-free, and patient-friendly alternative to invasive vaccine administrations. Recently, the safety and early efficacy of epicutaneous immunotherapy were also demonstrated in patients with hay fever, as an alternative to conventional subcutaneous allergen-specific immunotherapy (SCIT). One major challenge to epicutaneous vaccination is the barrier function of the stratum corneum, which must be overcome either by abrasive methods or by hydration. Such barrier function of the stratum corneum also hampers the use of common adjuvants used to enhance the efficacy of vaccination.
METHODS: In a mouse model of allergy, we tested the adjuvant potential of diphenylcyclopropenone (DCP), a strong contact sensitizer, which is currently used for the treatment of a T cell-mediated hair loss disease (alopezia areata).
RESULTS: Diphenylcyclopropenone enhanced antigen-specific IgG2a antibody responses as well as IL-10 cytokine production after epicutaneous immunization with ovalbumin (OVA). Epicutaneous allergen-specific immunotherapy (EPIT) with OVA and DCP also protected sensitized mice from anaphylaxis and asthma. The protective effect was more robust than that of conventional SCIT, which did not significantly alleviate the symptoms of allergy in the murine models of anaphylaxis and asthma.
CONCLUSIONS: This preclinical study confirmed previous clinical data that have demonstrated the potential of the skin as a target for allergen immunotherapy. The study also suggests that epicutaneous immunization or immunotherapy can be improved when an appropriate adjuvant such as DCP is used.