Food allergy: A search for the cause

Published Online: December 3, 2012

The steep rise in the incidence of food allergy in recent years has led to a search for environmental factors that might promote disease development. Epidemiological studies have previously pointed to a role for the gut microbial communities (microbiota) in disease pathogenesis, However, a precise analysis of the composition of the gut microbiota in food allergy and their role in disease pathogenesis has been lacking.

In an article recently published in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JACI), Noval Rivas et al addressed these questions using a novel, food allergy-prone mouse strain previously developed by the authors. Like food allergic patients, these animals were sensitized to food allergens by ingestion and exhibit full-blown systemic anaphylaxis upon enteral food challenge.

The researchers, including allergist-immunologists, microbiologists, and bioinformaticians from the Children’s Hospital and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, analyzed the gut microbiota of food allergy prone mice both before and after induction of food allergy in comparison to similarly treated but food allergy resistant control mice. The authors found that the induction of food allergy was associated with a reproducible change in the gut microbiota. Importantly, the food allergy-associated changes in the gut microbiota appeared to be pathogenic, as the introduction of those microbiota into germ free mice rendered those mice susceptible to the induction of food allergy. In contrast, induction of oral tolerance by means of allergen specific regulatory T cells reset the gut microbiota, reversing most of changes associated with food allergy and establishing a new-tolerance associated microbiota signature.

The authors’ findings suggest that the microbiota play an important role both in the development of food allergy and also in tolerance induction. Intriguingly, they also suggest that under certain conditions the susceptibility to food allergy may be a transmissible trait. These findings set the stage for future studies on food allergic human hosts to better understand the role of the gut microbiota in disease pathogenesis and tolerance induction.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is the official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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