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Toxicol Sci. 2000 Jun;55(2):235-46.

Why are some proteins allergens?

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AstraZeneca Central Toxicology Laboratory, Alderley Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK10 4TJ United Kingdom.


The ability of certain proteins to induce an allergic response in susceptible individuals is well established. Symptoms can range from mild erythema or rhinitis, to acute, and possibly fatal, anaphylactic shock. Because such allergic responses require complex interactions between the protein and the immune system, they are notoriously difficult to predict. Nevertheless, it is clear that some proteins are intrinsically more allergenic than others. The challenge for toxicologists is to identify those characteristics that confer on proteins the potential to induce allergic sensitization and allergic disease. Here, we first consider the potential contribution that individual epitopes may make to the allergenicity of a protein. These are the minimal peptide units within proteins that can be recognized by the immune system and are a fundamental requirement for all immune responses, including those resulting in allergic sensitization. It appears that allergens must necessarily contain B-cell epitopes to which immunoglobulin E (IgE) can bind, and T-cell epitopes capable of inducing a type 2 T-lymphocyte response. Nevertheless, it appears doubtful that the presence of appropriate epitopes alone is sufficient to endow a protein with allergenic potential. We therefore consider also the contribution that other features and characteristics of proteins may make to their overall allergenicity. In particular, we consider the effects that resistance to proteolysis, post-translational glycosylation, and enzymatic activity may have. It appears that relative stability in simulated gastric fluid (SGF) sometimes correlates with allergenic activity. However, this is not universally true, and it is known that there are protein allergens, such as some of those associated with oral allergy syndrome, that are unstable. Nevertheless, if stability in SGF is associated with the intrinsic allergenicity of many proteins irrespective of the route of exposure, then this may reflect some more fundamental property of proteins, and possibly their stability in other biologic matrices and/or to intracellular proteases. Post-translational modification appears generally to enhance allergenicity, perhaps by increasing uptake and detection of the protein by the immune system. Some enzymatic activities also enhance allergenicity through what appear to be several different mechanisms, including nonspecific activation of cells participating in the immunologic response. Overall, it appears likely that many factors can contribute to the overall allergenicity of any given protein. Some, such as the presence of epitopes with allergenic potential, may be essential. Others, such as the glycosylation status, resistance to proteolysis, and enzymatic activity, may play a subsidiary but nevertheless critically important role. By better defining the limits within which these factors operate, we can hope to gain a better understanding of the fundamental origins of protein allergenicity, and therefore be in a position to identify and characterize the hazards and risks of allergic disease associated with novel proteins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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