Animal hair allergy: causes deciphered - new therapy in prospect

Animal hair allergy: causes deciphered - new therapy in prospect

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New hope for pet hair allergy sufferers

Dog, cat, bird, hamster and various other rodents are popular pets in Germany, which in many cases achieve the status of a full family member. However, people who are allergic to animal hair often have to do without the company of hairy and feathered friends, depending on the severity of the allergy. Even a visit to households with pets is a certain problem for allergy sufferers, especially since the only therapy option currently available is to avoid the triggers. An Innsbruck research team has now decoded the causes of animal hair allergy and thus laid the foundation stone for therapy.

A current study by the Medical University of Innsbruck illuminates a previously unknown mechanism that is responsible for the allergic reactions to animal hair. The researchers led by biologist Christine Heufler were able to pinpoint a receptor called formyl peptide receptor 3 (FPR3) as the central linchpin. The findings offer a new starting point for future therapies. The study results were recently published in the "Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine".

More than one in ten people affected

The Helmholtz Zentrum München estimates that around twelve percent of all people are sensitive to animal hair. Those affected immediately feel whether an animal is near them. The allergy strikes immediately, especially in the homes of pet owners. Within a few minutes the eyes and skin start to itch, a sneezing sensation spreads in the nose and a coughing sensation in the lungs. For severe symptoms, medications such as antihistamines or glucocorticoids can help in the short term, but there is no proper therapy for these allergens. Avoiding triggers is currently the best way to avoid an allergic attack on animal hair.

How do allergic reactions occur?

The immune system plays a central role in animal hair allergies and many other allergic reactions. More specifically, the so-called dendritic cells are responsible for the reaction. The immune cells are usually intended to sound the alarm if there are foreign substances in the organism that could pose a possible danger. The cells take up constituents of the intruders and present them in a recognizable form to the T cells of the immune system, which then initiate the appropriate defense reaction. “Dendritic cells are highly specialized for stimulating T cell-dependent immune responses and are crucial in activating the helper T cells Th1 and Th2 involved, ”explains immunobiologist Christine Heufler.

Molecular allergy mechanism decoded for the first time

Even if you already know a lot about allergies, the molecular mechanism leading to the activation of Th2 cells in response to allergens has so far been unclear. In the area of ​​animal hair allergies, this mechanism has now been broken down by the Innsbruck team. All allergic reactions to lipocalin proteins are based on this principle. Lipocalins, for example, are the main triggers for widespread dog and cat allergies. In previous research, the team found that the interaction of dendritic cells with the allergen is critical to the type of immune response that is initiated. The first indication came to light that the FPR3 receptor plays a key role.

Details of an allergic reaction to animal hair

Therefore, the team analyzed the function of FPR3 in more detail. The scientists were able to show how peptides that bind to FPR3 develop in the dendritic cells when allergenic lipocalins are broken down. According to the researchers, this binding suppresses the production of the messenger substance interleukin-12 in the dendritic cell. The lack of the messenger in turn leads to an activation of Th2 cells, which ultimately trigger the allergic reaction. "With this reaction chain of allergen uptake, production of FPR3-binding peptides in the dendritic cell, blockade of IL12 production and the development of Th2 cells, we were able to demonstrate for the first time the development of lipocalin-specific allergic reactions", sums up first author Dominik Klaver the study results.

New therapy in prospect

In further tests, the researchers manipulated FPR3 so that the function of the receptor was switched off. “The function of the receptor can be switched off by gene silencing or the addition of an antagonist,” explains Heufler. This actually prevented the development of Th2 cells. The immune response to the allergen was thus suppressed. The researchers see this as the first step in the development of a therapy for animal hair allergies. (vb)

For more information, see the article: Animal Hair Allergy - Triggers, Symptoms, and Treatment.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Posch, Beate / Irsara, Christian / Gamper, Fabian S. / u.a .: Allergenic Can f 1 and its human homologue Lcn ‐ 1 direct dendritic cells to induce divergent immune responses, Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, 2019,
  • Medical University of Innsbruck: New mechanism for the development of allergic immune reactions identified (accessed: 02.08.2019),

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