Recent research may have identified the genes that are involved in peanut allergies.
Researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City say they found six genes that activate hundreds of others when an allergic reaction occurs.
The scientists were able to examine gene expression before, during, and after an allergy episode.
They’re hoping the results will give scientists a better understanding of how the allergy works — and perhaps more insights into preventing and treating them.
Peanut allergies affect about 1 percent of children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), child food allergies went up 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
Between 1997 and 2008, the peanut and tree nut allergy incidence seemed to have more than tripled among American children.
“Given the number of kids affected, it is important for us to learn as much as we can about peanut allergy, especially since so much is still not known about it,” Dr. Supinda Bunyavanich, an associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Healthline.
“This study highlights genes and molecular processes that could be targets for new therapies to treat peanut allergy reactions and could be important to understanding how peanut allergy works overall,” she said.
“Our study is the first to examine gene expression in children actively experiencing peanut allergic reactions,” Bunyavanich added.
Pinpointing peanut genes
As part of the study, blood samples were collected from 40 children with peanut allergies before, during, and after they were exposed to peanuts or a placebo.
The children consumed small amounts of peanuts every 20 minutes until an allergic reaction occurred.
On a different day, the children did the same but consumed oat powder instead of peanuts.
The double-blind study was published in Nature Communications.
The researchers identified the six key driver genes as well as cell types and biological processes linked to acute peanut reactions.
The key driver genes represent high-yield therapeutic targets for acute peanut reactions, Bunyavanich noted.
Three of the six driver genes were those that were linked to other allergic and atopic diseases.
“The genes we identified are activated during peanut allergic reactions. Whether these genes could be used as biomarkers of future peanut allergy is not something we examined,” she added.
For as much as we do know about peanut allergy, many aspects are not clearly understood.
“Though we can predict the likelihood of a future reaction, we are unable to predict the nature or severity of future reactions,” explained Dr. Stacey Galowitz, a board-certified allergist at ENT & Allergy Associates in New Jersey.
“This study is an exciting step in the right direction of understanding peanut allergy and allergic reactions,” Galowitz told Healthline.
“In order to direct new treatment strategies, we need more insight into peanut allergy on a molecular level,” she added. “Narrowing down the thousands of different genes that come from genetic sequencing to six high-yield targets will help scientists to focus their future research, which we hope will translate into better prevention and treatment options.”