Food Allergenicity

Why are some foods so allergenic?

Of all of the foods in the human diet, a short list of eight foods is responsible for more than 90 percent of all food allergies. These are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Some of these allergies are commonly outgrown in childhood (milk, egg), while others persist for a lifetime (peanut, tree nuts). It is not understood what makes some foods such potent and long-lasting allergens.

We have found that the skin is a sensor of allergenicity. Repeated exposure of mice to peanut on the skin leads to allergy and anaphylaxis to peanuts, while exposure to weaker allergens like milk and soy does not. The innate immune system of the skin recognizes peanut proteins as something dangerous, resulting in the generation of an inappropriate immune response. Our interest is in understanding the basis of that recognition: what are the cells that recognize peanut, through what receptors, and what components of the peanut cause this recognition?

Answering these questions may help us generate a hypo-allergenic peanut. Alternatively, discovering components of food that can activate the immune system in a unique way could help to develop novel tools for vaccines or immunotherapies.

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M. Cecilia Berin, PhD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
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