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Molecular features of food allergens

Author
Heimo Breiteneder, PhD
Section Editor
Scott H Sicherer, MD, FAAAAI
Deputy Editor
Elizabeth TePas, MD, MS

INTRODUCTION

Many of the allergen-containing protein families, and, consequently, their individual members, possess characteristic molecular features that promote allergenicity [1-5].

A food allergen must possess certain structural and physicochemical properties that prevent it from being destroyed by the digestive process in order for a predisposed individual to become sensitized via exposure through the gastrointestinal tract [6]. These properties ensure that enough of the protein survives in a sufficiently intact form to be taken up by the gut and to be recognized by the mucosal immune system. Processing may alter the allergenicity of food [7,8].

In addition, food allergens must possess the ability to induce a T helper cell type 2 (Th2)-biased, allergen-specific immune response via certain structural features of the allergen or association of the allergen with ligand molecules that can act as adjuvants [9]. Studies of the interaction of allergens and the innate immune system have highlighted the roles of pattern recognition receptors in initiating Th2-biased immune responses [10-12]. Several members of major allergen families bind lipid ligands via hydrophobic cavities or electrostatic or hydrophobic interactions [13]. These lipids, either present in the allergen source or originating from microbial contaminations, modulate the immune response of predisposed individuals by interacting with their innate immune system.

This topic reviews the structural and physicochemical features common to food allergens. The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) published the EAACI Molecular Allergology User’s Guide in May 2016, which is freely available online and contains a wealth of information on molecular features of allergens [14]. The clinical features and cross-reactivity of food allergens and the pathogenesis of food allergy are discussed separately. (See "Food allergens: Overview of clinical features and cross-reactivity" and "Pathogenesis of food allergy".)

A list of protein families that contain allergens can be accessed from the AllFam database of allergen families website [4]. The World Health Organization (WHO)/International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) Allergen Nomenclature database contains information on all officially recognized allergens. This database is supplemented by data from AllergenOnline. The protein family classification is based upon the Pfam database.

                        

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Literature review current through: Nov 2016. | This topic last updated: Tue Nov 22 00:00:00 GMT 2016.
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