Spring allergy season is in full swing and with it runny noses and itchy eyes. In hypersensitive people, exposure to allergen stimulates the production of IgE antibodies, which kick off a molecular chain-reaction producing the symptoms that are all too familiar for many of us. For those severely affected, so-called “allergy shots ” consisting of increasing doses of crude extracts made from the offending allergen—a procedure known as allergen immunotherapy (AIT)—provide the only long-lasting relief.
Trying to find out how exactly AIT succeeds in reprogramming an irritable immune system, Dr. Veronique Schulten, a researcher in Dr. Bjoern Peters’s lab, analyzed immune cells in dozens of blood samples from allergy patients receiving allergy shots. Turns out, AIT shifts the balance between two types of immune cells: those that help churn out antibodies and those that knock down antibody production. As the latter gain the upper hand, the flood of allergy-associated IgE antibodies gradually decreases and patients’ symptoms start to improve.