End of allergies? Researchers identify cells that trigger reactions

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Allergies stem from mistaken identity, when some of our immune cells respond to benign substances—known as allergens—that include pollen, mold spores, and certain foods. Researchers know that the culprits that touch off allergic symptoms belong to a group of T cells known as TH2 cells.

In the new study, researchers led by T cell biologist Erik Wambre and immunologist William Kwok of the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle, Washington, obtained blood samples from patients who were sensitive to pollen from alder trees, a common cause of winter and spring allergies. An allergic patient’s TH2 cells recognize and respond to an allergen because they carry receptors, proteins that match allergen molecules.

Wambre, Kwok, and colleagues found that the cells were abundant in the blood of patients with allergies to a variety of triggers, including grass pollen and house dust mites. But they were absent from the blood of people who weren’t sensitive.

If researchers can determine what molecular signals steer certain T cells to become TH2A cells, they may be able to develop ways to prevent formation of the cells. If researchers succeed in that, they might also prevent a lot of sniffling and scratching.

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