Chitin, the main component of arthropod exoskeletons, elicits an innate allergic response in mice that can be controlled by a host enzyme, a Nature paper reveals. The discovery may influence the development of novel therapeutics for allergic diseases such as asthma.
Mice treated with the biopolymer chitin develop an allergic response, characterized by a build-up of interleukin-4-expressing innate immune cells. But the symptoms can be abolished by treating the animals with the chitin-degrading mammalian enzyme AMCase, Richard M. Locksley and colleagues report.
Chitin provides structural rigidity to parasitic worms, fungi, crustaceans and insects, and its widespread presence in the natural world may have driven evolutionary pressure among vertebrates to maintain chitin-recognition molecules. Occupations predicted to have high environmental chitin levels, such as shellfish processors, are marked by high incidences of asthma, suggesting that this pathway may play a role in human allergic disease.
Richard M. Locksley (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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