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Cat Allergy? Scientists Make Important Discovery


If you love cats but their dander causes you to sneeze and suffer with itchy eyes, breathing problems, and other allergy symptoms, help could be on the way. Scientists at The University of Nottingham have discovered a receptor on certain cells that plays a major role in triggering allergic reactions to cat dander.

Cat allergy may be linked to a receptor on cells

An allergy is the immune system’s hypersensitive reaction to normally harmless substances called allergens, such as pollen, cat dander, and dust. An allergic reaction occurs when mast cells and basophils are activated by an antibody called immunoglobulin E, which results in an excessive inflammatory response.

Dendritic cells are among the first immune system cells to make contact with allergens. Nottingham scientists studied the role of the mannose receptor, which resides on the surface of these cells, and found that it plays a significant part in both recognizing a major cat allergen called Fel d 1, but also in triggering the body’s allergic response to it.

Cats are a source of five identified allergens, the most common being the glycoprotein Fel d 1, which is secreted by the sebaceous glands, microscopic glands in the skin that produce an oily substance called sebum. The next most common cat allergen is Fel d 4, which is in cat saliva.

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According to one of the study’s authors, Dr. Amir Ghaem-Maghami of the University’s School of Molecular Medical Sciences, “many studies have shown that up to 40 percent of children with asthma are allergic to cat allergens.” He noted that “A better understanding of how the interaction between allergens and the immune system leads to allergy is vital if we are to develop more effective and efficient treatments for this debilitating condition.”

Allergies and asthma often occur together. Allergic asthma is a type of asthma that is triggered by an allergy to substances such as cat dander or mold spores. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that 50 percent of the 20 million Americans who have asthma have allergic asthma.

Cats are a very popular companion animal, especially in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey, pet parents have about 93.6 million cats in the United States, 56 percent of pet parents have more than one cat, and 33 percent of US households have at least one cat.

The scientists believe their discovery concerning cat allergy will prove helpful in furthering the understanding of how the immune system identifies and responds to allergens. This new knowledge could then result in new ways to treat allergies, which is especially important for individuals who have asthma, which is exacerbated by allergies to airborne allergens.

University of Nottingham news release