NON-ALLERGENIC components of pollen do impact the body’s immune system, a recent study has uniquely revealed. The discovery could transform the future treatment of allergies.
Until now, the primary focus of pollen allergy research had largely centred on the role of allergens, the elements of pollen that trigger hypersensitivity reactions. However, an ambitious team of researchers led by Prof Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, Director, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany, have broken new ground by shifting attention away from allergens and instead investigating the effects of pollen’s other substances on allergy sufferers. By filtering the metabolic products of birch pollen, they were able to closely examine the non-allergenic low molecular substances that remained in the extract.
The team implemented two contrasting methods of investigation. The first involved conducting a skin prick test on hay fever sufferers to introduce them to different combinations of allergens and low molecular substances, from which a considerable amount of swelling and reddening occurred. The second method involved administering some of these substances through the nasal passage, which saw the production of a large number of antibodies and a significant build-up of mucus. From these two investigations, a key finding emerged: the body’s immune system reacted more vigorously when the low molecular substances were administered with the allergen as opposed to by themselves. With this information, the researchers extended their observation to note that the birch pollen extract can also have an effect on those who suffer from other plant pollen allergies. As Prof Traidl-Hoffmann explained, “The inflammatory effect of the low molecular components is non-specific, i.e. it is not connected to any one allergen.”
Additional research may be required to understand how the components that exacerbate allergic reactions function, but this particular study has highlighted the importance of the interplay between different allergenic substances. The team’s findings provide scope to revolutionise the medical treatment of allergies. “At present, only 60–70% of hypo-sensitisation therapies work,” observed Prof Traidl-Hoffmann. As current treatment involves administering all of the pollen components to the patient, these recent findings point to a more viable option focussed solely on the allergen, thereby enabling the body to adapt to pollen exposure.