TORONTO – Call it the “purrfect news” for feline lovers.
Scientists say their research could lead to new treatment options after discovering what actually triggers allergic reactions to cats.
Published in Journal of Immunology, researchers at the University of Cambridge studied proteins found in the particles of a cat’s skin, commonly known as dander.
While it has long been known that cat allergies are caused by people reacting to proteins found in the cat’s saliva, urine and dander, scientists were somewhat mystified as to what caused the allergic reaction in human immune system to the cat allergen (scientifically referred to as Fed d 1).
Lead researcher Dr. Clare Bryant said her team identified a receptor protein in human immune cells that recognises the major cat allergen protein when it is in the presence of LPS, a bacterial toxin commonly found in the environment.
“Bacterial toxins are present at low levels everywhere in the environment and do not normally activate the receptor protein,” explained Bryant in an interview with Global News. “But when compounded with the cat allergen, the receptor protein in the human body becomes super sensitive to the bacterial toxin and triggers the allergic response.”
Allergic reactions occur when the immune system responds to what it believes is a threat to health and life and overreacts, attacking what is often a harmless substance—like pet dander or a bee sting—that gains access to the body.
When microscopic pieces of dander become airborne, they often land on a person’s clothing or on surfaces found in one’s home, including furniture, carpets and curtains. If an allergic person encounters, in this case, a furry feline, a specific pathway in the body is activated and can result in common symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, wheezing and sneezing.
Bryant hopes the discovery will lead to new drugs that would block and prevent people from having an allergic response to cats.
In what ways, if any, could this finding help those who suffer from dog allergies?
“We found that one of the dog allergens was recognised by the same receptor as the cat allergen so similar approaches would be possible,” said Bryant.