House dust mites may be the primary trigger for allergy-associated respiratory problems in tropical urban environments

July 30, 2014
House dust mites may be the primary trigger for allergy-associated respiratory problems in tropical urban environments
The house dust mite, a common but invisible presence in many homes, is a major trigger of allergic respiratory problems in Singapore. Credit: Eraxion/iStock/Thinkstock

City life can be an assault on the senses—quite literally, in the case of allergies. The steady increase in global urbanization is mirrored by a growing prevalence of allergy-associated respiratory problems. Potential triggers include insects, mold, pollen and animal hair, but now A*STAR researchers have uncovered a single culprit with a disproportionate role in allergy onset in tropical urban settings1.

Allergies arise when the body mounts an to a foreign molecule that it mistakenly perceives as a threat. Whenever the body encounters that trigger—for example, a pollen grain—it produces large numbers of antibodies against the trigger. The resulting can cause symptoms including asthma and rhinitis. Olaf Rotzschke and colleagues from the Singapore Immunology Network and De Yun Wang of the National University of Singapore began their study by surveying the antibody responses of 206 volunteers to a dozen common allergic triggers.

Remarkably, the great majority of these Singapore-born individuals responded to one particular antigen: the tiny found in many homes (see image). This trend remained clear even after the researchers expanded their cohort to look at a larger group of individuals. "According to our study, 80 per cent of Singaporeans respond to the mite, with roughly 40 per cent developing and 15 per cent developing asthma," says Rotzschke. "Globally these are among the highest figures reported so far."

The allergic reaction appears to be a consequence of the Singaporean urban environment. When the researchers examined newly arrived Chinese immigrants, fewer than 30 per cent mounted a strong antibody response against dust mites; in contrast, for immigrants who had lived in Singapore eight years or longer, the response rate was indistinguishable from lifelong Singapore residents. "This phenomenon of gradual acquisition of an allergic reaction has been shown in other countries for other allergens as well," explains Rotzschke. However, in temperate regions in Western countries, the most common allergic trigger is pollen, suggesting that this dust-mite-associated sensitization may be more characteristic of tropical cities like Singapore.

By identifying a single target, the findings could be used to provide relief to of allergy sufferers. But the existence of such a large population with a shared, strong response to a single antigen has broader implications for research as well, notes Rotzschke. "We are currently planning a functional analysis of immune pathways in combination with genome-wide genetic studies to better characterize the molecular and genetic basis of allergies," he says.

Explore further: Researchers implicate house dust mites as the main cause of respiratory allergies in Singapore

More information: Andiappan, A. K., Puan, K. J., Lee, B., Nardin, A., Poidinger, M. et al. "Allergic airway diseases in a tropical urban environment are driven by dominant mono-specific sensitization against house dust mites." Allergy 69, 501–509 (2014). DOI: 10.1111/all.12364

Related Stories

Researchers implicate house dust mites as the main cause of respiratory allergies in Singapore

February 7, 2014
In the first comprehensive adult allergy cohort study in Singapore, scientists and clinicians from A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered that the primary ...

Researchers create vaccine for dust-mite allergies

July 22, 2014
If you're allergic to dust mites (and chances are you are), help may be on the way.

Basophils are found to be key drivers of allergy-induced lung inflammation

July 25, 2014
Many particles and molecules in the environment can trigger allergic asthma in susceptible individuals. The allergic response to some of these allergens results in lung inflammation that can lead to a narrowing of the airways ...

Basis of allergic reaction to birch pollen identified

June 5, 2014
In Austria alone around 400,000 people are afflicted by a birch pollen allergy and its associated food intolerances. Why so many people have allergic reactions to birch pollen has still not been completely explained. It is ...

New treatments for hay fever and house dust mite allergy successfully tested

October 3, 2013
Researchers have successfully tested treatments for people with allergies to grasses and to dust mites.

Recommended for you

Australian researchers in peanut allergy breakthrough

August 17, 2017
Australian researchers have reported a major breakthrough in the relief of deadly peanut allergy with the discovery of a long-lasting treatment they say offers hope that a cure will soon be possible.

Genetic variants found to play key role in human immune system

August 16, 2017
It is widely recognized that people respond differently to infections. This can partially be explained by genetics, shows a new study published today in Nature Communications by an international collaboration of researchers ...

Study identifies a new way to prevent a deadly fungal infection spreading to the brain

August 16, 2017
Research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered a way to stop a deadly fungus from 'hijacking' the body's immune system and spreading to the brain.

Biophysics explains how immune cells kill bacteria

August 16, 2017
(Tokyo, August 16) A new data analysis technique, moving subtrajectory analysis, designed by researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology, defines the dynamics and kinetics of key molecules in the immune response to an infection. ...

How a nutrient, glutamine, can control gene programs in cells

August 15, 2017
The 200 different types of cells in the body all start with the same DNA genome. To differentiate into families of bone cells, muscle cells, blood cells, neurons and the rest, differing gene programs have to be turned on ...

Scientists identify gene that controls immune response to chronic viral infections

August 15, 2017
For nearly 20 years, Tatyana Golovkina, PhD, a microbiologist, geneticist and immunologist at the University of Chicago, has been working on a particularly thorny problem: Why are some people and animals able to fend off ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.