MedUni Vienna: Trigger for wheat allergy discovered

Approximately 80,000 Austrians suffer from a wheat allergy and therefore should not eat anything containing wheat. An allergic reaction to wheat can have fatal consequences and lead to an anaphylactic shock.

Sandra Pahr of the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research at the MedUni Vienna has now identified one of the proteins in wheat that is to a large extent responsible for severe allergic reactions.    

This is the so-called "alpha purothionin" (Tri a 37), which actually plays a completely different role: it protects the wheat from pests and is therefore present in large quantities in wheat. At the same time however, this protein can trigger severe allergic reactions in people. Now Sandra Pahr from the working group under Rudolf Valenta, head of the Department of Immunopathology at the MedUni Vienna, has succeeded in identifying and analysing this protein.
By means of an allergy test, it should now be possible to filter out those patients who really do suffer from a wheat allergy. With the allergy tests in use currently it is very difficult to diagnose those allergic to wheat. This is because even those who can eat foodstuffs containing wheat without symptoms, blood tests are often positive due to cross reactions as well as reactions to carbohydrates even if it is only a pollen allergy. "Approximately 50 percent of those allergic to pollen are therefore also classified as wheat-intolerant," explains Pahr.

Discovery makes personalised treatment possible
In the current study, which has been published in the "Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology" and carried out within the framework of her dissertation, Pahr also discovered that patients, who had an allergen-specific antibody (IgE) to "Tri a 37" in their blood, possess a four times increased risk of displaying severe allergic reactions when consuming foodstuffs containing wheat.
Through the now successfully isolated identification of this protein, quite specific patient profiles can be produced in future in order to create a specific diagnosis and personalised treatment or diet recommendations. This protein is also contained in barley and rye, but not in oats, soya, rice, sunflower seeds, spelt nor in gluten-free bread.

Aim: to decode all building bricks of wheat allergy
The discovery of the Tri a 37 protein is one step on the way to the major target being pursued at the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research: "We want to decode the multifarious mosaic of wheat proteins, which can trigger allergic reactions," says Pahr. According to the scientist, this could already be successful by the end of this year.

Allergology – one of the five research clusters at the MedUni Vienna
Together with immunology and infectiology, allergology forms one of the five research clusters at the MedUni Vienna. The MedUni Vienna is increasingly focusing in this, and the other four specialist domains, on fundamental and clinical research. The other four research clusters are cancer research/oncology, vascular/cardiac medicine, neuroscience and imaging.

Service: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Tri a 37, a new wheat allergen for diagnosis of severe wheat food allergy”. S. Pahr, C. Constantin, N. Papadopoulos, S. Giavi, M. Mäkelä, A. Pelkonen, C. Ebner, A. Mari, S. Scheiblhofer, J. Thalhamer, M. Kundi, S. Vrtala, I. Mittermann, R. Valenta. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2013.05.016. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, July 2013.

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