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Protects Against Food Allergies Identified;
Represents a new
paradigm for preventing sensitization to food
Artist’s rendering of bacteria (stock
illustration). Credit: © zuki70 / Fotolia
New study: Clostridia, a common class of gut bacteria, protects against food
August 25, 2014, University of Chicago Medical Center: The presence of
Clostridia, a common class of gut bacteria, protects against food allergies,
a new study in mice finds. By inducing immune responses that prevent food
allergens from entering the bloodstream, Clostridia minimize allergen
exposure and prevent sensitization - a key step in the development of food
allergies. The discovery points toward probiotic therapies for this so-far
untreatable condition, report scientists from the University of Chicago, Aug
25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Although the causes of food allergy - a sometimes deadly immune response to
certain foods - are unknown, studies have hinted that modern hygienic or
dietary practices may play a role by disturbing the body’s natural bacterial
composition. In recent years, food allergy rates among children have risen
sharply, increasing approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, and
studies have shown a correlation to antibiotic and antimicrobial use.
“Environmental stimuli such as antibiotic overuse, high fat diets, caesarean
birth, removal of common pathogens and even formula feeding have affected
the microbiota with which we’ve co-evolved,” said study senior author
Cathryn Nagler, PhD, Bunning Food Allergy Professor at the University of
Chicago. “Our results suggest this could contribute to the increasing
susceptibility to food allergies.”
To test how gut bacteria affect food allergies, Nagler and her team
investigated the response to food allergens in mice. They exposed germ-free
mice (born and raised in sterile conditions to have no resident
microorganisms) and mice treated with antibiotics as newborns (which
significantly reduces gut bacteria) to peanut allergens. Both groups of mice
displayed a strong immunological response, producing significantly higher
levels of antibodies against peanut allergens than mice with normal gut
This sensitization to food allergens could be reversed, however, by
reintroducing a mix of Clostridia bacteria back into the mice.
Reintroduction of another major group of intestinal bacteria, Bacteroides,
failed to alleviate sensitization, indicating that Clostridia have a unique,
protective role against food allergens.
Closing the door
To identify this protective mechanism, Nagler and her team studied cellular
and molecular immune responses to bacteria in the gut. Genetic analysis
revealed that Clostridia caused innate immune cells to produce high levels
of interleukin-22 (IL-22), a signaling molecule known to decrease the
permeability of the intestinal lining.
Antibiotic-treated mice were either given IL-22 or were colonized with
Clostridia. When exposed to peanut allergens, mice in both conditions showed
reduced allergen levels in their blood, compared to controls. Allergen
levels significantly increased, however, after the mice were given
antibodies that neutralized IL-22, indicating that Clostridia-induced IL-22
prevents allergens from entering the bloodstream.
“This is absolutely testable as a therapeutic against a
disease for which there’s nothing.” - Cathryn
Nagler, PhD, Bunning Food Allergy Professor, University of Chicago
“We’ve identified a bacterial population that protects against food allergen
sensitization,” Nagler said. “The first step in getting sensitized to a food
allergen is for it to get into your blood and be presented to your immune
system. The presence of these bacteria regulates that process.” She
cautions, however, that these findings likely apply at a population level,
and that the cause-and-effect relationship in individuals requires further
While complex and largely undetermined factors such as genetics greatly
affect whether individuals develop food allergies and how they manifest, the
identification of a bacteria-induced barrier-protective response represents
a new paradigm for preventing sensitization to food. Clostridia bacteria are
common in humans and represent a clear target for potential therapeutics
that prevent or treat food allergies. Nagler and her team are working to
develop and test compositions that could be used for probiotic therapy and
have filed a provisional patent.
“It’s exciting because we know what the bacteria are; we have a way to
intervene,” Nagler said. “There are of course no guarantees, but this is
absolutely testable as a therapeutic against a disease for which there’s
nothing. As a mom, I can imagine how frightening it must be to worry every
time your child takes a bite of food.”
“Food allergies affect 15 million Americans, including one in 13 children,
who live with this potentially life-threatening disease that currently has
no cure,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, senior vice president of research at
Food Allergy Research & Education. “We have been pleased to support the
research that has been conducted by Dr. Nagler and her colleagues at the
University of Chicago.” (source: University of Chicago Medical Center. “Gut
bacteria that protect against food allergies identified.” ScienceDaily, 25
August 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140825152016.htm)
the front page in print...)
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