This research looks at the relationship between the development of allergy to peanuts and other foods that cause allergy.
Peanut allergy has become a major concern in westernised countries in the past two decades. In contrast to other food allergies, it is rarely outgrown in adolescence and the symptoms are often severe and can be life-threatening.
People who are allergic to peanuts are frequently also sensitised to tree nuts, but are only rarely allergic to other legumes (peanuts are a member of the legume family of plants).
The project investigated cellular reactivities in individuals reacting to peanut and to other foods, and compared these with results from healthy control subjects.
<p>T cells (cells involved in generating an allergic response) were analysed and their reactivities to independent stimuli and to food antigens (including peanut, soy, hazelnut, brazil nut, lupin, and egg and milk antigens) assessed.
The interaction between cells that present antigens to the immune system and T cells was also examined. Finally, serum levels of IgG antibodies to several foods (including peanut, brazil nut, soy and lupin) were analysed in order to establish a measure of antigen exposure in contrast to IgE antibody sensitisation.
A related experimental study involving rodents was conducted to establish if tolerance to peanut could be induced by oral administration (i.e. if peanut could act as a tolerogen).
<p>This study also aimed to determine whether administration of peanut to the mother during lactation could affect the immune status of the offspring.
For the first part of the study, human blood cells were cultured with food extracts and the responses of the cells analysed. Levels of IgG antibodies produced to several food samples were measured by analysis of serum using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs).
For the experimental rodent studies, peanut was administered directly by gavage to non-pregnant animals and lactating dams.
<p>Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the <a href="http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/" target="_blank">Food Standards Agency Research webpage</a>.