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Environmental Factor, November 2012

Bacterial protein in house dust spurs asthma

By Robin Arnette

Donald Cook, Ph.D.

Cook heads the Immunogenetics Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Respiratory Biology. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Darryl Zeldin, M.D.

In addition to being NIEHS scientific director, Zeldin also leads the Environmental Cardiopulmonary Disease Group in the Laboratory of Respiratory Biology. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A bacterial protein in common house dust may worsen responses to indoor allergens, according to research conducted by scientists at NIEHS and Duke University Medical Center. The finding, (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23064463)  published online Oct. 14 in the journal Nature Medicine, is the first to document the presence of the protein flagellin in house dust, bolstering the link between allergic asthma and the environment.

“Most people with asthma have allergic asthma, resulting largely from allergic responses to inhaled substances,” said the paper’s corresponding author Donald Cook, Ph.D., an NIEHS lead researcher. His team began the study to identify environmental factors that amplify the allergic responses. “Although flagellin is not an allergen, it can boost allergic responses to true allergens.”

After inhaling house dust, mice that were able to respond to flagellin displayed all of the common symptoms of allergic asthma, including more mucous production, airway obstruction, and airway inflammation. However, mice lacking a gene that detects the presence of flagellin had reduced levels of these symptoms.

“More work will be required to confirm our conclusions, but it’s possible that cleaning can reduce the amount of house dust in general, and flagellated bacteria in particular, to reduce the incidence of allergic asthma,” Cook said.

In addition to the mouse study, the research team also determined that people with asthma have higher levels of antibodies against flagellin in their blood than do non-asthmatic subjects, which provides more evidence of a link between environmental factors and allergic asthma in humans.

“More than 20 million Americans have asthma, with 4,000 deaths from the disease occurring each year,” added Darryl Zeldin, M.D., NIEHS scientific director and paper co-author. “All of these data suggest that flagellin in common house dust can promote allergic asthma by priming allergic responses to common indoor allergens.”

Citation: Wilson RH, Maruoka S, Whitehead GS, Foley JF, Flake GP, Sever ML, Zeldin DC, Kraft M, Garantziotis S, Nakano H, Cook DN. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23064463)   2012. The Toll-like receptor 5 ligand flagellin promotes asthma by priming allergic responses to indoor allergens. Nat Med; doi:10.1038/nm.2920 [Online 14 October 2012].




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