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Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2006 Sep 15;113(1-2):99-112. Epub 2006 Jun 23.

Equine insect bite hypersensitivity: immunoblot analysis of IgE and IgG subclass responses to Culicoides nubeculosus salivary gland extract.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Research, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Berne, Bremgartenstr. 109 A, P.O. Box, 3001 Berne, Switzerland.


Insect bite hypersensitivity (IBH) is an allergic dermatitis of horses caused by IgE-mediated reactions to bites of Culicoides and sometimes Simulium spp. The allergens causing IBH are probably salivary gland proteins from these insects, but they have not yet been identified. The aim of our study was to identify the number and molecular weight of salivary gland extract (SGE) proteins derived from Culicoides nubeculosus which are able to bind IgE antibodies (ab) from the sera of IBH-affected horses. Additionally, we sought to investigate the IgG subclass (IgGa, IgGb and IgGT) reactivity to these proteins. Individual IgE and IgG subclass responses to proteins of C. nubeculosus SGE were evaluated by immunoblot in 42 IBH-affected and 26 healthy horses belonging to different groups (Icelandic horses born in Iceland, Icelandic horses and horses from different breeds born in mainland Europe). Additionally, the specific antibody response was studied before exposure to bites of Culicoides spp. and over a period of 3 years in a cohort of 10 Icelandic horses born in Iceland and imported to Switzerland. Ten IgE-binding protein bands with approximate molecular weights of 75, 66, 52, 48, 47, 32, 22/21, 19, 15, 13/12 kDa were found in the SGE. Five of these bands bound IgE from 50% or more of the horse sera. Thirty-nine of the 42 IBH-affected horses but only 2 of the 26 healthy horses showed IgE-binding to the SGE (p<0.000001). Similarly, more IBH-affected than healthy horses had IgGa ab binding to the Culicoides SGE (19/22 and 9/22, respectively, p<0.01). Sera of IBH-affected horses contained IgE, IgGa and IgGT but not IgGb ab against significantly more protein bands than the sera of the healthy horses. The cohort of 10 Icelandic horses confirmed these results and showed that Culicoides SGE specific IgE correlates with onset of IBH. IBH-affected horses that were born in Iceland had IgGa and IgGT ab (p< or =0.01) as well as IgE ab (p=0.06) against a significantly higher number of SGE proteins than IBH-affected horses born in mainland Europe. The present study shows that Culicoides SGE contains at least 10 potential allergens for IBH and that IBH-affected horses show a large variety of IgE-binding patterns in immunoblots. These findings are important for the future development of a specific immunotherapy with recombinant salivary gland allergens.

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