Potential food allergy blocking mechanism found.

Findings published in the Journal of Allergy and clinical immunology identified an enzyme (Cyp11a1) that is essential to the . Blocking the enzyme’s activity in sensitized mice reduced the symptoms of an allergic reaction and reduced levels of several proteins associated with allergies.

“Right now, we have no therapy for food allergy other than to avoid the allergenic food,” said senior author, Erwin Gelfand, MD, chair of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health. “In Cyp11a1, we have found an essential enzyme and signaling pathway in the intestinal allergic reaction, which are potential targets for intervention.”

Food allergies have spiked in recent decades, now affecting about 8 percent of the American population. Among children, peanuts are the most common food allergy and can provoke severe, even life threatening, allergic reactions. and epinephrine are used in response to allergic reactions, but there is no approved therapy for the prevention of .

Cyp11a1 promotes the first and rate-limiting step in the production of corticosteroids. These steroids have long been used to treat because they inhibit associated with the allergic reaction. Evidence in recent years, however, has indicated that corticosteroids may also activate associated with allergic reactions.

The researchers sensitized mice to peanuts so that they became allergic to the legume. When subsequently fed , the mice experienced diarrhea and in the small intestine. Levels of Cyp11a1 increased, as did cytokine signaling molecules IL13 and IL17A, which are associated with allergic reactions.

When the researchers used () to inhibit the of Cyp11a1 in the sensitized mice, it prevented allergic diarrhea and , and reduced levels of IL13 and IL17A. It also reduced the conversion of naïve into allergic Th2 and Th17 subtypes.

“While we evaluated Cyp11a1 blockade in peanut allergy, it could likely have an effect in the full range of food allergies,” said Dr. Gelfand.


Meiqin Wang, Julita Ramirez, Junyan Han, Yi Jia, Joanne Domenico, Max A. Seibold, James R. Hagman, Erwin W. Gelfand. The steroidogenic enzyme Cyp11a1 is essential for development of peanut-induced intestinal anaphylaxis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.05.027

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