Researchers have found that people with allergies, whether they be food or airborne, have a distinct group of immune cells that are associated with those allergic reactions. These cells are potential biomarkers for allergy therapy effectiveness and allergy diagnosis.

New drug targets could be found and new blood tests for specific allergies could be developed based on the findings, the researchers say. “For the first time, we have a way to distinguish between bad cells involved in allergies and good ones involved in fighting infection,” said Erik Wambre of Benaroya Research Institute, an author of the study.

These specific “helper” cells trigger the immune system’s response to allergens and are closely linked with similar cells which trigger responses to pathogens.

The cells, a subset of 2 T helper (Th4) cells, express proteins associated with allergies and release different molecules as a reaction to those and other proteins.

The molecules released and the way they’re release are what trigger immune responses to things like allergens or legitimate pathogens.

Using a molecular probe, the research team separated Th4 cells that target alder, peanut, and other allergens. They analyzed the proteins expressed on the surfaces of the Th4 cells, comparing healthy non-allergenic people’s cells to those of people diagnosed with a specific allergy. The scientists ultimately profiled over 150 surface proteins on the cells.

The scientists are calling the allergen-expressing cells “Th4A” cells and further found that those with diagnosed allergies had higher numbers of these types of cells circulating in their bodies than do those who do not have an allergy.

The researchers then further set out to show that these cells could be used as biomarkers by studying the cells of patients undergoing an immunotherapy treatment to desensitize them to peanut allergies. They found that the number of Th4A cells for peanuts dropped as the patient became more desensitized to peanuts.

The team further hopes that the findings could mean future drug targets for treatment options.

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