The three most common allergic diseases may share some of the same genetic risk factors, this according to the newest study from the Max Delbruck Center (MDC) for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association, published in the journal Nature Genetics.
In the new SHARE study, which includes 360,000 participants diagnosed with eczema, hay fever, asthma, or a combination of the three, researchers found that these conditions can be inherited together. SHARE is the world’s largest study into multiple allergies; in the past, studies mostly focused on individual allergic diseases. The study’s large number of participants also makes it stand out.
"Very large data sets have to be examined for the genetic risk factors of allergic diseases to be identified," explained researcher Young-Ae Lee.
Researchers found 136 genetic loci (positions in the genome) found to be risk factors for the three allergic diseases, many of which increased the risk of developing all three diseases, and 73 of which had never before been reported.
Additionally, the 136 genetic loci were associated with 244 possible disease genes, most involved immune regulation. During allergic and autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly mounts an immune response as if there were a bacterial or viral infection. A small group of genes were associated with DNA methylation changes, which can be activated by environmental factors and which influence gene regulation. Several of the genes are already being tested as potential drug targets for new treatments for allergies, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
With a large majority of the genes identified in the study being associated with regulation of the immune system, the findings highlight how important the immune system’s role is in a genetic predisposition for developing allergies. Excessive or completely unnecessary immune responses are at the center of virtually all autoimmune or allergic diseases.
Lee says the new study explains why some people more than others are “particularly prone to allergies.” In the future, scientists can use findings like these to develop new treatment options that could potentially target all three of the most common allergic diseases.