A gene responsible for the production of an allergy-blocking protein has been discovered by the team of Prof. Israel Pecht at Weizmann Institute's Immunology Department.
Allergic reactions occur when a substance known as an allergen -- pollen, pet dander and mold are common examples -- triggers an abnormal response of the immune system involving a complicated cascade of molecular processes. These events cause mast cells that line the surface of the lungs, nose and other body tissues to release chemicals responsible for the allergy.
Prof. Pecht's team discovered that when molecules of a certain protein present on the membranes of mast cells group together, they can interfere with the biochemical cascade leading to an allergy attack. The scientists describe the structure of this protein -- referred to as mast-cell-function-associated antigen, or MAFA -- and the gene responsible for its production in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. MAFA has the structure of a receptor for sugar molecules called lectins, and most probably plays a role in communication between cells.
In the future, it may be possible to prevent allergic reactions by designing medications that mimic the action of this protein.
Prof. Pecht's team consisted of Marcelo D. Guthmann and Michael Tal.
Funding was provided by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Germany. Prof. Pecht holds the Dr. Morton and Anne Kleiman Professorial Chair.