Scientists have discovered a gene that is linked to peanut allergies, a find that could help doctors treat the medical condition.
They reported their research in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, pointing the finger at a gene that has already been found to be connected to other allergy conditions. The gene, c11orf30/EMSY, or EMSY for short, carries “a risk … for both peanut and food allergy,” the study says.
Although it has been associated with allergy conditions like eczema and asthma, this is the first time it has been linked to food allergies.
“These findings suggest that the gene plays an important role in the development of not just food allergy but also general allergic predisposition,” the University of British Columbia said in a statement.
To find ESMY’s link to peanut allergies, the scientists performed a genetic analysis on 850 Canadian people with the allergy and 926 without it, and compared those results to other genetic analyses performed in other countries, the study explains. They were searching for genes that might put people at greater risk for developing an allergy to food and found that ESMY fit the bill.
The team also found five other genes that could be involved in these allergies.
“Food allergy is the result of both genetic and environmental factors, but there are surprisingly few data regarding the genetic basis of this condition,” researcher Dr. Denise Daley said in the statement. “The discovery of this genetic link gives us a fuller picture of the causes of food allergies, and this could eventually help doctors identify children at risk.”
Genes connected to peanut allergies have previously been identified, but having additional clues into how these conditions manifest themselves could lead to more accurate diagnostic tests and better treatments for the affected people.
“One of the hurdles in developing new treatments for food allergies is identifying the specific genes and pathways we need to target,” researcher Dr. Aida Eslami said in the statement. “These results suggest that EMSY could be a useful target for predicting and managing food allergy treatments in the future.”
When someone with an allergy to peanuts encounters that food, the body identifies the foreign substance as a threat and the immune system responds in an extreme manner, sending antibodies to attack it and releasing inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and serotonin. In response to those chemicals, the internal organs constrict, among other symptoms.
This reaction is the same for someone who is allergic to other substances, like penicillin or pollen, although the severity of the reaction may vary.
“Your immune system produces antibodies that defend against foreign substances,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “This is good when a foreign substance is harmful (such as certain bacteria or viruses).”
But when the substance in question is as harmless as a peanut, “the immune system sets off a chemical chain reaction, leading to allergy symptoms.” A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylactic shock, and the potentially fatal reaction includes a drop in blood pressure, a constricted airway that makes it hard to breathe, a weak pulse, nausea, hives, dizziness and other symptoms.