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Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2004 Jan;4(1):43-6.

What makes a food protein an allergen?

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Monsanto, 800 N. Lindbergh Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63167, USA.


Food allergens are almost always proteins, but not all food proteins are allergens. This one statement sums up the purpose of this article, defining the difference between an innocuous food protein and a food allergen. The simplest answer is that a food allergen has the ability to first elicit an IgE response, and then, on subsequent exposures, to elicit a clinical response to the same or similar protein. However, this simplistic answer avoids the more complex issues of defining the biochemical characteristics that allow a food protein to survive the extremes of food processing, escape the digestive enzymes of the human gastrointestinal tract, and interact with the immune system. More than 700 allergen sequences have been identified from food and nonfood sources. However, despite increasing knowledge of the structure and amino acid sequences of the identified allergens, only a few biochemical characteristics can be associated with food allergens. Food allergen characteristics, including abundance of the protein in the food; multiple, linear IgE binding epitopes; resistance of the protein to digestion and processing; and allergen structure are discussed, and the possible reasons they predispose some food proteins to become allergens are suggested.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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