Researchers identify genetic link to peanut allergies

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Peanuts: Delicious to many, but deadly to some

An international research team at Dundee University in Scotland has established a gene called Filaggrin is linked to peanut allergies. Calling the research a "potential breakthrough", the team says it is the first firm evidence of a genetic element to the potentially fatal condition.

The team — including scientists from the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, and Canada — had previously identified Filaggrin as linked to eczema and asthma. The gene is involved in ensuring the skin is an effective barrier to irritants and Dundee University fellow Dr. Sara Brown described "logical next step" as investigating peanut allergy linkage.

The university says in the last two–three decades there has been a major rise in peanut allergies, which now affect 1–2% of young Britons. The condition is not fully understood, but it is now known that changes in the structure of Filaggrin can cause a genetic fault, leading to increased liklihood of peanut allergy.

The gene is a factor in around 20% of the cases studied, and Dundee's Professor Irwin McLean — a Filaggrin expert — said more work is required to fully understand the causes of the disease. "We knew that people with a Filaggrin defect were likely to suffer from eczema, and that many of those people also had peanut allergy," he explained. "What we have now shown is that the Filaggrin defect is there for people who have peanut allergy but who don't have eczema, which shows a clear link between Filaggrin and peanut allergy."