Breakthrough in understanding of IgE mechanisms in allergic asthma –

Scientists at King’s College London, funded by Asthma UK, have published the results of fifteen years’ worth of research into effective treatments for asthma in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

The team, led by Professor Brian Sutton at the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms at King’s College have revealed the precise shape of a molecule called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is an antibody molecule produced by the cells of our immune system, and known to be very important in allergic asthma.

In someone with allergic asthma, the IgE molecules sit on the surface of mast cells, which hold histamine-containing granules. When the person comes into contact with an allergen, the allergen causes the IgE to attach to the mast cells, causing the mast cells to release the histamine granules which brings about the classic symptoms of asthma: wheezing, breathlessness and others, by narrowing the airways and triggering inflammation.

The scientists were able to discover how IgE moves by firing X-rays at purified protein crystals, and measuring how the the rays were deflected. With further funding, the team is now testing some chemical compounds to determine which may have the potential to block the interaction between IgE and its receptor, thus preventing the development of asthma. This is important because allergens all have different shapes, but all trigger asthma by binding to IgE on mast cells. If the scientists can find a drug that prevents IgE from interacting with mast cells, they can prevent asthma developing.

In the UK 5.4 million people have asthma, and 80% have allergies which affect their asthma control. Effective treatment would have an enormous impact on their quality of life.

Sources: Asthma UK and
Nature Structural & Molecular Biology

First Publishe in April 2011

Click here for more research on possible treatments for asthma

Top of page