Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Popular Science Presentation

A dramatic increase in the incidence of atopic (IgE mediated) allergies has occurred during the past 50 years. Estimates show that 20-30% of the populations in some western countries have allergic symptoms that are so severe, they constitute a medical problem. This situation has, together with better management of many of the major infectious diseases, placed atopic allergies among the major medical issues of the industrialized world. Common atopic allergies include hay fever, fur allergies, different types of asthma, food allergies and dermatitis.

Despite its normally very low concentration in human plasma, immunoglobulin IgE is the central player in these allergies. IgE triggers the allergic reaction through its interaction with the high affinity receptor for IgE on mast cells and basophils. These two related cell types have the potential to induce strong inflammatory reactions by releasing a number of preformed substances, such as histamine, heparin, cytokines and proteases. During activation mast cells and basophils also produce potent physiologically acting lipid mediators, i.e. prostaglandins and leukotrienes. In addition to playing a pivotal role in allergy and asthma, these two cell types play an important role in our defense against bacterial and parasite infections and in other diseases like arthritis and cancer.

In order to obtain a better picture of the basic regulatory mechanisms of atopic allergies and thereby to find new ways to interfere with these processes, we study different aspects of cells and molecules involved in these diseases. Our main areas of research are IgE structure and evolution, mast cell and basophil biology and the development of novel treatment strategies. The treatment strategies we are exploring are vaccinations against several key cytokines that work as master regulators of TH2 mediated inflammatory conditions, i.e. IL-18, IL-33 and thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP).