It’s allergy season and for many people that means sneezing, coughing, watery eyes and trouble breathing – there’s nothing worse. Much to our dismay, the prevalence of allergic disorders, such as atopic dermatitis (a skin inflammation brought on by allergies) has been steadily increasing in the past decade for reasons not yet known.
Previously, it had been thought that atopy is caused by a primary dysfunction of the immune system. Consequently, attempts were made to treat the condition through various methods, all aimed at weakening the immune system activity at the cost of often severe side effects such as an increase in the presence of infectious complications.
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However, in recent studies, immunological abnormalities have been found to occur in allergic disorders as a result of a primary defect residing within the skin barrier. This barrier is actually a functional entity located in the upper layers of the skin. It creates a separation between us and our environment, also making sure that essential nutrients and proteins are kept within the body and preventing unwanted intruders (such as allergens) from gaining access to the inside of our body. It has been shown that the skin barrier functionality depends on the presence of several proteins within our cells, such as filaggrin, whose absence is considered as a major risk factor for atopic dermatitis.
Getting past the surface
Researchers have recently discovered that the key to the proper functions of the barrier are small but complex protein units, called desmosomes.
“Desmosomes are responsible for ensuring cell-cell adhesion within all layers of the skin. We found out that a critical component of the desmososmes called desmoglein 1 is missing in the skin of patients affected by a life-threatening form of allergic skin disease called SAM syndrome (Severe dermatitis, Allergy, and Metabolic wasting),” says Liat Samuelov, who co-led the research project with Ofer Sarig.
Sarig adds: “The disease is caused by poorly functional bonds between cells located in the upper part of the skin. This is apparently enough for foreign proteins to move across the skin barrier and elicit an exaggerated immune response. Even more interestingly, when we studied isolated cells from the patients, these were found to secrete numerous mediators of allergy. Thus our data call into question the role of the immune system in allergic processes, with obvious implications for the development of new therapeutic strategies in atopic dermatitis.”
The study researching desmosomes was an international collaboration of a team of researchers led by Professor Eli Sprecher at the Deparment of Dermatology at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Tel Aviv University and Professor Kathy Green from Northwestern University. Their research was published in the journal Nature Genetics.
Photo: Woman Scratch Her Back With Itchy Skin by Bigstock