Birch pollen has helpers: non-allergenic substances increase allergies

Birch pollen has helpers: non-allergenic substances increase allergies

Birch pollen: Non-allergenic components make hay fever worse
Sneezing fits, watery eyes, itching: For people with pollen allergy and hay fever, spring is usually a time of suffering. It is not only the allergens in the tiny plant particles that are responsible for the symptoms. As researchers have now found, non-allergenic substances in the pollen aggravate the unpleasant immune response. The new findings could help to improve allergy therapy.

Allergic reactions due to pollen
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), hay fever is one of the most common allergic diseases. If the pollen from trees, shrubs, grasses, grains and herbs touches the mucous membranes of those affected, allergic reactions are triggered. These include, among other things, watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, a flowing or blocked nose, shortness of breath up to bronchial asthma. The skin can also react and headaches and sleep disorders can occur. Some pollen is more difficult for those affected than others. It was predicted months ago that pollen pollution from birch trees is likely to be extremely high this year. As researchers now report, it is not only the allergens, but also numerous non-allergenic substances in the pollen that make life difficult for allergy sufferers.

Pollen doesn't just release allergens
According to a press release, research on pollen allergies has long focused on allergens - the constituents of pollen that trigger hypersensitivity reactions. However, pollen releases numerous other substances in addition to allergens when it comes into contact with the nasal mucosa. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Helmholtz Center in Munich have now conducted a pilot study to investigate the effects of these substances on allergy sufferers for the first time. They found that non-allergenic components of pollen significantly influence the body's reaction. The result of the study, which was published in the specialist journal "Clinical and Experimental Allergy", suggests a rethink of current practice in the treatment of allergies.

Most important trigger of the defense reaction
Birch pollen makes life difficult for many people. According to the Munich researchers, the most important trigger for the defense reaction is a protein called Bet v 1, the main allergen of the birch. The team led by Prof. Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann from TUM filtered the metabolic products of birch pollen until only non-allergenic low-molecular substances were contained in the extract, i.e. substances with particularly small molecules. As stated in the communication, the scientists tested various combinations of allergen and low-molecular substances with a so-called prick test on the skin of pollen allergy sufferers, and also administered some of the mixtures via the nose to the test subjects .

Reactions in the test significantly stronger
The result was clear: in both tests, the reactions were significantly stronger if not only the allergen but also the low-molecular substances were administered. If they were pricked under the skin, especially strong redness and wheals developed. When taken over the nose, the mixture caused a lot of mucus. In allergy sufferers on whom only the low-molecular substances were tested, however, no effect was found. “It was striking that the birch pollen extract not only had an effect on test persons who were sensitive to the birch allergen. The effect was also evident in people who were allergic to grass pollen and who received the corresponding allergen in combination with the birch pollen extract through the nose, ”says the press release.

Interaction of different substances
This can be explained by the fact that many of the low-molecular substances also occur in other pollen. "The inflammatory effect of the low molecular weight components is a non-specific effect that is not related to a specific allergen," says Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann. "We suspect that effects can be demonstrated even in non-allergy sufferers." According to the researchers, birch pollen extract contains around 1,000 different low-molecular substances. Some of the components that exacerbate allergic reactions have been identified in previous studies. The interplay of different substances also plays an important role in the development and effects of allergies. “The human organism is complex. You cannot expect the cause of allergies to break down into a single substance, ”said Traidl-Hoffmann.

Approach to improve allergy therapy
As the experts report, the knowledge that non-allergenic substances in pollen can have a major impact on the body's reaction could change the treatment of allergies. In a specific immunotherapy, hyposensitization against hay fever, doctors today administer a liquid that contains pollen with all its components. As a result, however, substances such as the investigated low-molecular substances get into the organism. “Currently only 60 to 70 percent of hyposensitization therapies work,” said Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann. One reason for this could be non-allergenic but inflammatory ingredients that have a negative effect on the treatment. One approach to improve therapy could be vaccination solutions with recombinant, i.e. biotechnologically produced proteins. You could only give the allergen in a targeted manner so that the body gets used to it. So far, therapy using recombinant proteins has only been developed for people who are allergic to bee and wasp venom. (ad)

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