~ Oxidative Stress Implicated in Allergy and Asthma

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have found that in addition to an abnormal immune overreaction, another factor is necessary for a severe inflammatory allergic response or asthma subsequent to inhaling pollen.

The factor is oxidative stress, damage caused by reactive oxygen species formed by interactions between an enzyme found in pollen and airway cells. The research was published in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (http://www.jci.org/).

The researchers found that an enzyme in pollen and molds called NADPH oxidase produced reactive oxygen species in cell cultures and in the lungs and airways of mice.

Oxidative stress rapidly led to the production of inflammatory immune signaling molecules and the accumulation of inflammatory cells that is typical of allergic reactions. When pollen extract from which NADPH oxidase had been removed was tested, no reactive oxygen species were formed, and there was a minimal increase in inflammatory immune cells.

Lead author and University of Texas Medical Branch associate professor Istvan Boldogh explained, "There has been a lot of discussion about oxidative stress exacerbating asthma and allergies, but this is the first direct evidence that oxidative stress is required to induce a robust inflammation, and the first demonstration that a source of that stress is right there in the pollen itself. We showed that you need both oxidative stress and antigenic exposure to get a robust allergy or asthma attack, and also that the first few minutes of the exposure are critical. The antigen exposure has to happen in parallel with oxidative stress, and having both components in the pollen makes that possible."

The authors hope that their finding will encourage efforts to discover pollen NADPH oxidase inhibitors or compounds that will help prevent oxidative stress in the lungs. Conflicting results obtained by studies utilizing vitamin C to reduce airway inflammation could be the result of insufficient levels of the vitamin in the lungs and airways due to rapid metabolism of antioxidants in these areas, leading to the suggestion that antioxidants could be delivered every couple hours via inhalation.

Dr Boldogh added, "If we can find an antioxidant with a longer half-life, it could be really very effective in asthma and allergy treatment and also prevention."

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