Being allergic to dogs is a common malady and one that is growing worldwide. There have been many research efforts describing the nature and progression of dog allergies, but there have been very few applied studies that use this information to try to cure people of dog allergies entirely by artificially inducing immune tolerance. But researchers have now, for the first time, identified candidates for those parts of the molecules that make up dog allergens that could give us precisely that: a “dog allergy vaccine.”
Over the years, scientists have been able to identify seven different dog allergens—molecules or molecular structures that bind to an antibody and produce an unusually strong immune response that would usually be harmless. But while there are seven, just one is responsible for the majority (50-75 percent) of reactions in people allergic to dogs. It is found in dogs’ tongue tissue, salivary glands, and skin.
In recent years, there has been an extensive effort at developing epitope-focused vaccines—in this case, a vaccine against dog allergies.
“We want to be able to present small doses of these epitopes to the immune system to train it to deal with them, similar to the principle behind any vaccine,” said Takashi Inui, a specialist in allergy research, professor at Osaka Prefecture University and a lead author of the study. “But we can’t do this without first identifying the Can f 1’s IgE epitope.”
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Published in the Federation of European Biochemical Societies journal, the researchers used X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of the Can f 1 protein as a whole—the first time this had ever been done.
They found that the protein’s folding pattern is at first glance remarkably similar to three other Can f allergens. However, the locations of surface electrical charges were quite different, suggesting a series of ‘residues’ that are good candidates for the IgE epitope.
Using this basic data, further experimental work needs to be performed to narrow the candidates down, but the findings suggest the development of a hypoallergenic dog-allergy vaccine—is within our grasp—which is good news for some suffering pet parents.
The production of a ‘hypoallergenic vaccine’ using such epitopes would not just be a world-first with respect to dog allergies but is rare for any allergic reaction. If the researchers’ work is indeed used to develop a dog allergy vaccine, the principles behind it could be used much more widely against various allergies.