Genetic and molecular insights into dangerous tick bite-related meat allergy revealed: Key molecules involved in mammalian-meat anaphylaxis have had their structure revealed, paving the way for future treatments

Scientists have revealed the genetic and molecular structure of key molecules linked to the sometimes life-threatening mammalian-meat allergy brought on by tick bites.

The study, led by researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, details how antibodies interact with the sugar molecule galactose-α-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal/α-gal), which is produced by all mammals, except humans and higher primates. It further confirms the role of α-gal as the key molecule for this unique allergy.

When humans are exposed to α-gal, through bites of certain tick species — such as the paralysis tick Ixodes holocyclus endemic to Eastern Australia — the immune system can flag it as harmful and instigate an allergic response, sometimes with near-fatal consequences.

Lead author Professor Daniel Christ, Head of Antibody Therapeutics and Director of the Centre for Targeted Therapy at Garvan, says the molecular analysis showed that a particular antibody type (3-7) has a natural pocket into which α-gal snugly fits.

“We have more than 70 types of antibodies and this one is significantly overrepresented with α-gal recognition. We seem to be genetically predisposed to being sensitive to this sugar,” Professor Christ says.

The new study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), paves the way for potential therapeutic candidates for treating the rare allergic response.

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