The molecular mechanisms that underpin allergic reactions have been identified by an Indian-origin scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Dr. Inder Verma, a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, believes that this work may pave the way for new therapies to stop the summer sneezing, and to treat more severe allergic responses.
"These results may allow us to develop acute inhibitors of allergic reactions that do not have the side-effects of current treatments such as drowsiness," he says.
He says in a research article in the journal Cell that specialised cells in the body, mast cells, release the chemical histamine whenever an individual encounters an allergen, such as pollen, and thereby offer protection against the allergen.
However, he adds, this process can abnormally occur throughout the body in people with allergic diseases, leading to severe inflammation and in the worst cases, anaphylactic shock and death.
Dr. Verma says that the new study implicates a multi-tasking molecule called IKK2, a protein kinase, in allergic reactions.
While experimenting with mice, he says, it was observed that the animals with mast cells lacking IKK2 had reduced allergic reactions.
"That was one of the first clues that IKK2 had other roles to play," says Dr. Verma.
Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Kotaro Suzuki, who led the current study, added: "IKK2 knock out mast cells couldn't release enough histamine."
The researchers say that IKK2's role in the allergic response does not stop there, for the late phase of the response also required it.
The research team is now testing inhibitors of IKK2 as acute treatment for allergic reactions.
They believe that IKK2 inhibitors may have the added benefit of reducing both the early and late phase allergic responses.
The researchers also think that IKK2 may have a role in pathologies like diabetes and nervous system diseases too.