Severe food allergies turned off in mice

Severe allergic reactions to foods lead to approximately 300,000 emergency room visits and between 100-200 deaths each year. But a research team from John Hopkins University has found that by targeting a certain receptor in the immune cells of the gut, they can keep food proteins from causing any serious harm.

SIGNR1, a special receptor expressed by the lamina propria dendritic cells, appears on the cells’ surface and binds to specific sugars. Team leaders Shau-Ku Huang and Yufeng Zhou modified a food protein that causes allergies in mice by adding certain sugars. These modified proteins would be bound by the SIGNR1 receptors, which would learn to tolerate them. They hypothesized that this would mean that the food protein would no longer cause a reaction even when ingested in its unmodified form.

The study involved mice being fed modified protein for three days. After five days he fed them unmodified protein. Another group of mice was fed unmodified protein without having been given any of the modified protein. The control group suffered convulsions, tremors and/or death, but the test group only had minor reactions such as itchiness or puffiness around the eyes and nose: the test group appeared to be desensitized to the allergic reaction-causing food protein.

It is not yet known whether shutting off some responses in the immune cells is the only function of the SIGNR1 receptor.

Source: Nature

Other Johns Hopkins researchers on the study include Hirokazu Kawasaki, Shih-Chang Hsu, Reiko T. Lee, Xu Yao, Beverly Plunkett, Jinrong Fu and Yuan C. Lee

More research on the management of allergy

First published in October 2010

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