Cat allergy research offers new clues

Cat Cats are common culprits for pet allergies

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Scientists have discovered how allergic reactions to cats are triggered, raising hopes of preventative medicine.

A University of Cambridge team has identified how the body's immune system detects cat allergen, leading to symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.

New treatments to block this pathway raise hopes of developing medicines to protect sufferers, they say.

Allergy UK says the research is "a big step forward" in understanding how cat allergen causes allergic reactions.

Researchers led by Dr Clare Bryant of the University of Cambridge studied proteins found in particles of cat skin, known as cat dander, which is the most common cause of cat allergy.

They found that cat allergen activates a specific pathway in the body, once in the presence of a common bacterial toxin.

This triggers a large immune response in allergy sufferers, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing and a runny nose.

Cat allergies

  • Cats are among the most common culprits for pet allergies
  • People with cat allergies are allergic to proteins in the cat's saliva, urine, and dander (dried flakes of skin)
  • Symptoms of a cat allergy can develop in a few minutes or take hours to appear
  • Some people with allergic asthma have severe flare-ups after coming in contact with a cat

Dr Bryant told BBC News: "We've discovered how the cat allergy proteins activate the host immune cells.

"By understanding the triggering mechanism, there are now drugs that have been designed that are in clinical trials for other conditions, such as sepsis, that could potentially then be used in a different way to treat cat allergy and to prevent cat allergy."

The charity Allergy UK said the research, published in Journal of Immunology, was a big step forward in understanding how cat allergen causes such severe allergic reactions.

"Cat allergen is particularly difficult to avoid as it is a 'sticky' molecule that is carried into every building on people's shoes and clothes," said director of clinical services Maureen Jenkins.

"It can also still be found in a home, on the walls and ceiling or fittings, even a few years after a cat has ceased to live there.

"Therefore, this new information identifying the specific receptor interaction in the immune system could pave the way for treatments for those with persistent disease triggered by cat allergen and, in the future, potentially dog and house dust mite allergen."

Allergic reactions happen when the immune system overreacts to a perceived danger.

Instead of responding to a harmful virus or bacteria, it misidentifies allergens, such as cat dander, and mounts an immune response.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    I've noticed that I develop immunity to specific cats after a few days. So after I got my two rescue cats, I eventually stopped sneezing, and now only get irritated eyes if a bit of fur actually gets into my eye. Meeting new cats still make me sneeze though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Allergies kill, so any advancement is a godsend for people affected. . . . . .I have allergies to a certain group of medicines, penecillin, asprin, oramorph etc and have been hospitalised on numerous occasions because of it. It's very frightening to be faced with possible death, so this is fantastic news for sufferers

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    This is great news for me as my friend has 3 cats , after spending 10 minutes in her house i get skin irritation , runny nose and my eyes look like road maps.

    Which results in my visits being a short one , now I could possibly spend more time with her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I am delighted to hear of this excellent news, well done. Sadly over the years my trips to various members of the family have stopped as a result of my allergy to cats. People have pets and I have nothing against this, I have had to change my lifestyle to suit. This recognition and treatment has not come early enough for sufferers like myself, thank you for the research, well done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Well, that's cats sorted out, could you move onto successfully combating hayfever next? My eyes are as raw as an uncooked steak at the moment and none of the so-called 'remedies' ever work...

    (I mean this in all seriousness, not a "should've sorted out x before y". Tackling allergies is very important work)


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