There is still very little known about the influence of the food matrix (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and food processing on the allergenicity of proteins. Nevertheless, allergic reactions can be quite severe. How does an allergic reaction initiate and continue at the cellular level? Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is unravelling such mechanisms.
Certain proteins (allergens) in food can cause allergic reactions in people. Well known are for instance peanut allergy, or cow’s milk allergy, mostly occurring in young children. There is a great need for methods which can predict the degree of the allergenicity of proteins. In addition, there is too little information on the characteristics which could make this kind of prediction possible. With such knowledge, we can contribute to predictive models, safer food processing, and development of better diagnostic tests.
Being able to make these predictions, for example, by performing a diagnostic test on someone with a food allergy can be very valuable in practice. In this case, the so-called ‘provocation test’ would no longer be necessary to determine if and how heavily someone responds to an exposure to peanuts, for example. The structure of proteins which cause food allergies can vary considerably. During digestion, one protein will remain more stable than another, and additionally, the presence of this in a food matrix can make predicting allergenicity extra complex.
Nearly all our foods are being processed, before we consume them. Often, such processing includes a heating step; and heating has all kinds of consequences for proteins, such as unfolding, aggregation, and binding to sugars via e.g. the Maillard-reaction.
During the study, the researchers will be determining the degree to which the food matrix (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), the digestive processes and various food processing methods affect the allergenicity of proteins. Proteins will be pre-processed by cooking or roasting them. Next, the digestive process will be mimicked in order to allow the allergenicity of proteins to be studied at a cellular level. This ‘cellular level’ will be at both ends of the allergenic reaction cascade: we analyse what the impact is on the initiation of allergic reactions, as well as the impact on the eventual clinical reaction.