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News Release - New genetic clue to peanut allergy

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Canadian researchers have pinpointed a new gene associated with peanut allergy, offering further evidence that genes play a role in the development of food allergies.

The affected gene, called EMSY, is already known to play a role in other allergy-related conditions, such as eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis. The findings were published today in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“The findings from this study provide a connection between the inherited aspects of peanut allergy and the environmental aspects,” says Yuka Asai, assistant professor at Queen’s University and co-first author on the paper. “Learning more about the mechanism by which these components interact could help us know who is at risk for developing peanut or other allergies, and therefore who may benefit from early intervention for prevention.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed DNA from 850 individuals with a peanut allergy recruited from the Canadian Peanut Allergy Registry (CanPAR) and nearly 1,000 individuals without a peanut allergy. The team scanned over 7.5 million genetic markers across the DNA through a genome-wide association study (GWAS), searching for clues to which genes might contribute to an increased risk of developing food allergies. The team also analyzed results combined with six other genetic studies from American, Australian, German, and Dutch collaborators.

What they found was that EMSY was associated with an increased risk of both peanut allergy and food allergies in general, and five other gene locations are also suspected to be involved.

“Allergies are the result of both genetic and environmental factors, but there are surprisingly little data regarding the genetic basis of this disorder,” says AllerGen’s Denise Daley, one of the study’s senior authors and Tier II Canada Research Chair in the genetic epidemiology of common complex diseases. “The discovery of this genetic link gives us a fuller picture of the causes for food allergies, something that could help doctors identify children at risk.”

Peanut allergy develops in early life and is rarely outgrown. "Roughly one per cent of Canadian adults and between two and three per cent of Canadian children are affected, and the symptoms can be severe and life threatening,” says Ann Clarke, co-senior author and a Professor at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary.

“Our results also have the potential to provide a new pathway for treatment of peanut allergy and perhaps other allergies as well,” says Dr. Asai. “Next, we must understand the timing and nature of the environmental exposures that determine which genetic predispositions manifest as allergy.”

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Media contact:
Dave Rideout
Communications Officer
Queen's University
613.453.5676
dave.rideout@queensu.ca

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