A protein that acts as a sensor for detecting various allergens in the respiratory tract that are responsible for asthma attacks has been identified.
A team of Inserm and CNRS researchers from the Institute of Pharmacology and Structural Biology or IPBS (CNRS / Université Toulouse III--Paul Sabatier) conducted the study.
The study was codirected by Corinne Cayrol and Jean-Philippe Girard, is published in Nature Immunology. These scientists' work offers hope for breakthroughs in the treatment of allergic diseases.
The IPBS team has identified a human protein that reacts to many environmental allergens: interleukin-33 (IL-33). When allergens enter the human respiratory tract, they release proteases that hack IL-33 molecules into extremely reactive pieces triggering the chain reactions behind allergy symptoms.
Apparently, the same mechanism is responsible for these reactions after exposure to any of several different allergens.
As a matter of fact, IL-33 was shown to detect 14 different allergens tested, which include some present in ambient air (i.e. pollen, house dust mites, and fungal spores) and others associated with occupational asthma (like subtilisin, found in detergents).
These findings are all the more important because they establish a direct link between genetics and the environment.
Indeed, the gene that codes for IL-33 is among the principal ones predisposing humans to asthma.
Furthermore, clinical trials now under way are targeting IL-33. And they're on the right track, given the IPBS team's discovery of a single mechanism for detection of airborne allergens by IL-33.
Inhibiting production of reactive IL-33 fragments after allergen exposure might make it possible to limit severe allergic reactions in asthmatic patients.