We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Conquering Cat Allergy

The mechanism behind some people's allergic reaction to cat dander has finally been figured out.

By Valerie Ross
Jan 9, 2014 8:00 PMNov 12, 2019 5:11 AM
Fesus Robert/Shutterstock


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

An estimated one in four people are allergic to cats.

Now, after learning how felines trigger such potent allergic reactions, researchers say new treatments may emerge.

Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system targets a normally harmless protein as if it were a dangerous pathogen, leading to inflammation. For people who are allergic to cats, that protein is Fel d 1, found in cat dander and the culprit behind allergy sufferers’ sneezes, wheezes, runny nose and watery eyes. But just how this protein triggers the immune system has been a mystery.

Human cells don’t respond to Fel d 1 alone, researchers at the University of Cambridge in England reported in July. It takes a third ingredient to get an inflammatory reaction: lipopolysaccharide, a molecule secreted by many common bacteria and therefore ubiquitous in the environment. When the researchers added a little of this bacterial byproduct to the mix, Fel d 1 activated a specific immune receptor on cells, called Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4).

What’s more, the researchers found a way to keep Fel d 1 from causing an allergic response. If they treated tissue with a drug that blocked the activity of TLR4, the immune system did not flare up. “You could potentially inhale a dose of the inhibitor before entering into a room where cats were, and you hopefully wouldn’t get an allergic response,” says immunopharmacologist Clare Bryant, who led the study. The same inhibitor might be useful in thwarting other allergies as well.

[This article originally appeared in print as "Conquering Cat Allergy."]

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.