People who are allergic to cats may soon get some relief from the itchy eyes, sneezing, asthma and coughing.
Researchers at Cambridge University
in England have shown how the most common cause of allergic reactions to cats, the Fel d 1 protein that is found in cat dander, interacts with a common chemical in the human body to cause an allergic reaction.
When the dander -- dead skin cells -- is combined with a common environmental toxin called lipopolysaccharides, or LPS, it stimulates an immune receptor called TLR 4, triggering allergic reactions
Allergic reactions are the result of the immune system overreacting to a perceived danger. Instead of identifying and responding to a harmful virus or bacteria, it misidentifies different allergens, including dander, as dangerous and mounts an immune response.
"How cat dander causes such a severe allergic reaction in some people has long been a mystery," said Clare Bryant, the lead author of the study. "Not only did we find out that LPS exacerbates the immune response’s reaction to cat dander, we identified the part of [the] immune system that recognizes it."
Using a drug that inhibits TLR 4, researchers were able to block an allergic reaction.
"As drugs have already been developed to inhibit the receptor TLR4, we are hopeful that our research will lead to new and improved treatments for cat and possibly dog allergy sufferers," Bryant added.
In the future, the findings could yield a drug that could block the allergic reaction completely. Cat allergy sufferers usually rely on antihistamines, which have side effects such as drowsiness.