A GENE previously identified as playing a role in eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis has been pinpointed as being associated with the incidence of peanut allergy. The allergy affects roughly 1% of Canadian adults and between 2% and 3% of Canadian children, and usually develops in young children; furthermore, the condition is rarely outgrown during a patient’s life. Since the consequences of exposure to peanuts in these allergic-individuals are potentially severe and life-threatening, identifying a gene associated with the allergy could provide a target pathway for treatment.
Dr Denise Daley, University of British Columbia, Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Canada, commented: “Food allergy is the result of both genetic and environmental factors, but there are surprisingly few data regarding the genetic basis of this condition.” She went on to explain: “The discovery of this genetic link gives us a fuller picture of the causes of food allergies, and this could eventually help doctors identify children at risk.”
The study, carried out by Dr Denise Daley and Dr Ann Clarke, University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine, Calgary, Canada, was the first to identify the association between the c11orf30/EMSY gene (EMSY) and food allergy. The Canadian Peanut Allergy Registry was used to identify 850 individuals with a peanut allergy, and an additional ~1,000 individuals without a peanut allergy were also recruited. A genome-wide association study was initiated to screen >7.5 million genetic markers for an association with an increased risk of developing food allergies, and data from six other studies carried out in the USA, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands were also analysed. The results indicated that EMSY was associated with an increased risk of developing a peanut allergy; interestingly, it was also found to increase the risk of individuals developing other food allergies. In addition, five other genetic loci were determined to potentially be involved.
This was not the first study to suggest a genetic link to peanut allergy. Indeed, co-authors Dr Yuka Asai, Department of Medicine, Queens University, Kingston, Canada, and Dr Aida Eslami, University of British Columbia, previously published a paper on the defects in the FLGgene that are associated with an increased risk of developing a peanut allergy; however, this mutation was only present in 20% of allergic patients. Dr Eslami explained: “One of the hurdles in developing new treatments for food allergies is identifying the specific genes and pathways we need to target. These results suggest that EMSY could be a useful target for predicting and managing food allergy treatments in the future.”