Air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide. A new study has revealed that a pair of air pollutants linked to climate change could also be a major contributor to the unparalleled rise in the number of people sneezing, sniffling and wheezing during allergy season. The gases, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, appeared to provoke chemical changes in certain airborne allergens that could increase their potency. That, in combination with changes in the global climate, could help explain why airborne allergies are becoming more common.
Researchers Poschl; Christopher Kampf, Ph.D.; Manabu Shiraiwa, Ph.D.; and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute explored how allergy-causing substances are altered in the air. Building on their previous work, they decided to dig deeper into how that happens and examine how traffic-related air pollutants could increase the strength of these allergens. In laboratory tests and computer simulations, researchers studied the effects of various levels of ozone and nitrogen dioxide on the major birch pollen allergen called Bet v 1.
The researchers found that ozone, the main component of smog, oxidizes an amino acid called tyrosine that helps form Bet v 1 proteins. This transformation sets in motion a chain of chemical reactions that involves reactive oxygen intermediates that can bind proteins together, altering their structures and their potential biological effects. When this occurs, the cross-linked proteins can become more potent allergens.
The research team also found that nitrogen dioxide, a component of automobile exhaust, appeared to alter the polarity and binding capabilities of Bet v 1 allergenic proteins. Researchers predicted that this, in conjunction with the effects of ozone, might enhance the immune response of the body to these particles, particularly in humid, wet and smoggy environments.
The scientists in collaboration with biomedical researchers plan to identify other modified allergenic proteins in the environment and hope to study their effects on the human immune system, which might also be affected by other physiological factors.