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05 March 2021

The quality of food allergy antibodies more important than the quantity in determining whether allergic reactions occur

New research investigates how allergy antibodies affect the response of allergic cells in peanut allergy.

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Food allergy results from the effects of allergy antibodies (IgE) following exposure to an allergen, such as a peanut. These antibodies travel to cells that, when exposed to the allergen, release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. This reaction usually causes symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat or on the skin.

The diagnosis of food allergy is therefore based on the detection of allergen-specific IgE. However, the majority of children with IgE to peanut are not peanut allergic.

New research led by Dr Alexandra Santos, Reader in Paediatric Allergy from the School of Life Course Sciences and School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences, has investigated this discrepancy between the presence of IgE and allergic reactions further and has found that the quality of the IgE is more important to determine whether or not a given patient is allergic, rather than the amount of allergen-specific IgE found in the blood.

The basic characteristics of IgE are the proportion of total IgE that is specific to peanut (so-called specific activity), the number of allergens within peanut that IgE recognises (diversity), and the strength by which IgE binds to the allergen (avidity).

The essential characteristics to cause an allergic reaction proved to be specific activity and diversity of IgE. This discovery could be used to improve allergy diagnosis, as well as monitor responses to treatment.

The higher the levels of peanut-specific IgE, the greater the likelihood of peanut allergy; however, at the individual patient level, there can be a discrepancy between peanut-specific IgE levels and allergic reactions to peanut. Our research demonstrates experimentally that the quality of IgE is more important in determining whether mast cells and basophils react to peanut and the combination of these IgE characteristics is overall reflected on the degree of basophil and mast cell activation.

Dr Alexandra Santos, School of Life Course Sciences and School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences

In this story

Alexandra  Santos

Clinical Professor of Paediatric Food Allergy