The alpha-gal story: lessons learned from connecting the dots.J Allergy Clin Immunol 2015; 135(3):589-96; quiz 597JA
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be rapidly progressing and fatal, and therefore establishing its cause is pivotal to long-term risk management. Our recent work has identified a novel IgE antibody response to a mammalian oligosaccharide epitope, galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). IgE to alpha-gal has been associated with 2 distinct forms of anaphylaxis: (1) immediate-onset anaphylaxis during first exposure to intravenous cetuximab and (2) delayed-onset anaphylaxis 3 to 6 hours after ingestion of mammalian food products (eg, beef and pork). Results of our studies and those of others strongly suggest that tick bites are a cause, if not the only significant cause, of IgE antibody responses to alpha-gal in the southern, eastern, and central United States; Europe; Australia; and parts of Asia. Typical immune responses to carbohydrates are considered to be T-cell independent, whereas IgE antibody production is thought to involve sequential class-switching that requires input from T cells. Therefore, establishing the mechanism of the specific IgE antibody response to alpha-gal will be an important aspect to address as this area of research continues.