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Definition of Allergens: Inhalants, Food, and Insects Allergens

  • Christopher Chang
  • Patrick S. C. Leung
  • Saurabh Todi
  • Lori Zadoorian
Living reference work entry

Abstract

The environment we live in and the food we consume on a daily basis contain numerous foreign antigens. During embryonic development and throughout our entire lives, the human body develops tolerance to many of these allergens in order that we do not suffer from the various maladies that result from an aberrant response to otherwise non-dangerous non-self-antigens. However, it is not always clear to the human immune system which antigens should be granted “immunity.” For some pathogenic organisms, it is appropriate to protect ourselves against these invaders, as they may be harmful and cause disease or death. For other non-self-antigens, the immune system must develop tolerance to these proteins because they may be essential for our survival. On the other hand, the inability to develop tolerance to food, or to pollen, or to animal dander can lead to undesired biological consequences, which in many cases manifest in the form of an allergy. The molecules that cause symptoms are most often proteins or glycoproteins and lipoproteins. For many of them, their native function is known, but this is not always the case. There are also many allergenic substances which have not been well defined from either from a structural or functional perspective. The common mechanism for the development of IgE-mediated hypersensitivity involves the cross-linking of IgE antibodies on the surface of mast cells and the subsequent degranulation of preformed and newly synthesized mediators by the latter. Allergenic proteins can contain linear or conformational epitopes or be heat stable or heat labile. Food allergens can be modified by food processing or are affected by specific methods of cooking, which can denature the protein or, conversely, render a protein more allergic through various known chemical pathways such as the Mallard reaction. The end result is either a protein that is less or more allergic than the native protein. Pollens can be carried through biotic or abiotic means, but not all pollen allergens have been characterized. The peak season for pollens varies by the species, geography, and climate. This complex network of exposure is what the human immune system needs to navigate through to reach the balance where it knows exactly what to defend against and what to ignore. This is not always successful.

Keywords

Pollen Allergenic determinants Component-resolved diagnosis Food allergy Allergic rhinitis Asthma Eczema Atopic dermatitis Dust mite Dander Heat labile 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Pediatric Immunology and AllergyJoe DiMaggio Children’s HospitalHollywoodUSA
  2. 2.Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical ImmunologySchool of Medicine, University of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.Department of PediatricsFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Massoud Mahmoudi
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of General Medicine/Department of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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