Environmental Allergens

  • Thomas A. E. Platts-Mills
  • Judith A. Woodfolk
  • Lisa M. Wheatley


When Charles Blackley proved that grass pollen grains were the cause of seasonal hay fever, he took the first steps to understanding why some plants and animals in our environment are important causes of sensitization and symptoms (1). Dr. Blackley was well aware of the size of pollen grains; he knew they could fly up to at least a thousand feet, and he also demonstrated that aqueous extracts of pollen would give rise to wheal and flare skin responses. The important aspects of studies on inhaled allergens are to understand which sources produce a sufficient number of protein-carrying particles, the nature of the proteins, and the properties of the particles; in particular, whether the particles become or remain airborne and whether they release protein rapidly on contact with an aqueous milieu such as the nasal or bronchial epithelium. All inhaled allergens characterized to date have been purified from an aqueous extract of the source material. Purification of allergens using classical immunochemistry was a major undertaking, and it was difficult to formally establish the nature of the protein that had been purified. Indeed during the 1960s and 1970s many allergens were purified, but their identity was subsequently “lost.” By contrast, Amb a 1 from ragweed, Fel d 1 from cat dander, and Lol p 1 from Rye grass pollen were repeatedly purified and defined both physicochemically and by producing mono-specific antisera (2–4). Three major scientific developments transformed the immunochemistry of allergens: first, the ability to sequence proteins; second, the invention of monoclonal antibodies (MAbs); third, the cloning and sequencing of DNA (5–7). Sequencing of a protein provides a permanent definition and makes it possible to search for homology with proteins from other species. MAbs also provide a simple and effectively permanent method for defining proteins and can be used to develop sensitive specific assays for allergens (6,8,9). The impact of the techniques for measurement has largely been in relation to the indoor environment because, unlike pollens and most fungal spores, it is difficult to identify microscopically the particles carrying airborne mite, cat, dog, or cockroach allergens (10–13). The immunoassays for indoor allergens have played a major role in defining the relationship between exposure to indoor allergens and disease, and also in developing techniques for allergen avoidance (14–19).


Allergy Clin Immunol House Dust Grass Pollen Major Allergen Inhalant Allergen 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas A. E. Platts-Mills
  • Judith A. Woodfolk
  • Lisa M. Wheatley

There are no affiliations available

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