Is pollen allergy a result of ‘porous’ skin in the nose and eyes?

Research groups at the Helsinki University, Helsinki University Central Hospital and several other Finnish groups have been working to clarify what happens in the epithelium (the skin and cellular tissue) immediately after it is exposed to an allergen but before the allergic reaction develops.
Using birch pollen allergen (Bet v 1) they were able to show that the pollen allergen enters and travels through the epithelium in the nose and eyes of allergic patients within one minute of exposure, but not in those who are not allergic. The allergic reaction develops when the allergen reached mast cells under the bottom layer of the epithelium (the basement membrane).

During the research it became evident that during spring, in allergic patients the birch pollen allergen Bet v 1 changed the expression of hundreds of genes of the nasal epithelium compared to samples taken during winter; and of these genes several were connected with protein transport and regulation of cytoskeleton.

‘We were able to describe a mechanism whereby birch pollen allergen Bet v 1 travels through the epithelium of allergic patients but not of healthy subjects. This kind of transport mechanism is also used by viruses and bacteria when invading the epithelium and infecting patients’, explained Professor Risto Renkonen of the Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki and HUSLAB, Helsinki, Finland.

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First Published in June 2009

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