One protein is responsible for a range of allergic reactions (and blocking it could help treat cancer and HIV)

A new study‘s found that one protein is the root of a range of allergic reactions to medications and other substances. Researchers from Johns Hopkins and the University of Alberta say that developing medication to counteract its effects could improve treatment success for everything from diabetes to cancer to HIV.

Scientists already know that pain, itching, and rashes at the points where drugs for these illnesses are injected are caused by mast cells (pictured, looking a little like a Jackson Pollock). These have receptors that release histamine and other substances when they perceive a ‘threat’ (like medication), thus causing inflammation.

This had long been considered to be an allergic response, but if it were a true allergic response, the body would produce antibodies, and in these cases, it doesn’t, making it a ‘pseudo-allergy’. The researchers worked to find out what was happening instead, and identified one receptor that’s only found in mast cells. They tested this in cells grown in the lab and discovered that those cells could be triggered in the same way. They then disabled the gene for this receptor in mice and found that it halted the pseudo-allergic response, regardless of the substance tested.

The fact that this one protein, which they’ve labelled MRGPRX2, is responsible for several different responses means that blocking it in humans could solve problems treating a number of diseases, as some of its most common triggers are chemotherapy drugs, HIV medication, and drugs that paralyse the muscles during surgery. The scientists are now working to find the best way to safely block the receptor in people. They’re also investigating whether the offending protein is implicated in rosacea, psoriasis, and other hard-to-treat immune conditions triggered by inflammation.

Image by Joel Mills via Wikimedia Commons.

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