The dramatic increase in allergies, diseases of the joints, diabetes and other common illnesses that affect the immune system suggests that environmental factors are very significant. A study of people with pollen hay fever now shows that this may be the result of chemical changes in the genes, called DNA methylation.
In an international study led from Linköping University, researchers chose to study pollen hay fever as a model illness. Both the external factor (pollen) and the most important cell (T lymphocytes) are well known. T-cells can be separated from blood from patients and healthy subjects and stimulated by pollen in test-tubes.
Environmental factors can be significant
These new findings may be significant for both diagnosis and therapy. For example, it is already known that patients with pollen hay fever can be cured using immunotherapy, where patients are treated with small amounts of pollen over a longer period. Researchers are now investigating whether this influences DNA methylation.
The study is based on an EU project led by the Centre for Individualized Medication (CIMed) at LiU and a new branch of research, systems medicine, which aims to understand how a change in the interaction between a large number of genes and environmental factors leads to illness.
Article: DNA Methylation Changes Separate Allergic Patients from Healthy Controls and May Reflect Altered CD4+ T-Cell Population Structure by C E Nestor, F Barrenäs, H Wang, A Lentini, H Zhang, S Bruhn, R Jörnsten, M A Langston, G Rogers, M Gustafsson and M Benson. PLoS Genetics 10(1) 2014.