Parasites implicate hygiene as trigger for allergies

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The “hygiene hypothesis” proposes that allergic reactions—in which the immune system misfires on innocuous environmental triggers like pollen or peanuts—are driven by a lack of exposure to parasites or other pathogens. In the absence of these true illness-causing agents, the immune system accidentally attacks similar-looking, harmless compounds in the environment with molecules called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Data published in PLOS Computational Biology by a team of researchers in the U.K. help to substantiate that hypothesis.

“It will change how we think about allergens,” said Padraic Fallon, an immunologist at Trinity College, Dublin. “It puts the science behind what we thought might be happening. They’ve elegantly dissected this fundamental question: ‘What is an allergen?’”

The team collected all available data on allergens within those families, eventually totaling 2,712 examined proteins. The researchers determined the DNA sequences that code for the part of an allergen that is recognized and attacked by the immune system, called the epitope; most proteins had more than one. The team then used that information to construct the proteins’ 3-D structures.

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Once they computed these data for the allergenic proteins, the researchers searched for similar DNA sequences or protein structures in the parasitic worms, using either published DNA sequences or proteins from databases. The team examined 70,403 parasite protein gene sequences, and found 2,445 proteins that were statistically similar in sequence or structure to those from the known allergens.

Read full, original post: An Evolutionary Basis for Allergies

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