Comparisons of Allergenic and Metazoan Parasite Proteins: Allergy the Price of Immunity

Nidhi Tyagi*, Edward J. Farnell, Colin M. Fitzsimmons, Stephanie Ryan, Edridah Tukahebwa, Rick M. Maizels, David W. Dunne, Janet M. Thornton, Nicholas Furnham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Allergic reactions can be considered as maladaptive IgE immune responses towards environmental antigens. Intriguingly, these mechanisms are observed to be very similar to those implicated in the acquisition of an important degree of immunity against metazoan parasites (helminths and arthropods) in mammalian hosts. Based on the hypothesis that IgE-mediated immune responses evolved in mammals to provide extra protection against metazoan parasites rather than to cause allergy, we predict that the environmental allergens will share key properties with the metazoan parasite antigens that are specifically targeted by IgE in infected human populations. We seek to test this prediction by examining if significant similarity exists between molecular features of allergens and helminth proteins that induce an IgE response in the human host. By employing various computational approaches, 2712 unique protein molecules that are known IgE antigens were searched against a dataset of proteins from helminths and parasitic arthropods, resulting in a comprehensive list of 2445 parasite proteins that show significant similarity through sequence and structure with allergenic proteins. Nearly half of these parasite proteins from 31 species fall within the 10 most abundant allergenic protein domain families (EF-hand, Tropomyosin, CAP, Profilin, Lipocalin, Trypsin-like serine protease, Cupin, BetV1, Expansin and Prolamin). We identified epitopic-like regions in 206 parasite proteins and present the first example of a plant protein (BetV1) that is the commonest allergen in pollen in a worm, and confirming it as the target of IgE in schistosomiasis infected humans. The identification of significant similarity, inclusive of the epitopic regions, between allergens and helminth proteins against which IgE is an observed marker of protective immunity explains the ‘off-target’ effects of the IgE-mediated immune system in allergy. All these findings can impact the discovery and design of molecules used in immunotherapy of allergic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004546
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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