May 10, 2018 - Research

The Shared Genetics of Allergies, Hay Fever and Eczema

Along with budding blossoms, sniffles and sneezing are another right of spring for millions of people with common allergies, and for humans it’s more than just a runny nose.

Dandelion seeds in the sunlight blowing away across a fresh green morning background

In the United States alone, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease.

In the same way that it is not one grain of pollen that triggers an allergic response but millions, a new study has found that the genetics behind allergies work in much the same way, with many genetic variants each with a small effect contributing to susceptibility to allergies, hay fever and eczema.

The study, led by Manuel Ferreira, Ph.D of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane Australia, was a follow-up on a large genome-wide association study done by the same team last year that identified more than 100 genetic variants associated with all three of the conditions. The data used for that study included data from 23andMe customers who consented to participate in research, as well as data from the UK Biobank.

For this study, the researchers were build off the  insight out from their previous research by taking a slightly different approach. Instead of conducting another genome-wide association study to find associations for each single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), the team completed a gene-based analysis, which looked at genes across the genome.

These kinds of methods “improve power over the alternative approach of testing each SNP,” the study authors said.

Also, the researchers focused only on genetic variants known as “expression quantitative trait loci” (eQTL), which influence the expression of that of a gene. By focusing only on these variants, researchers believe they are more likely to find variants associated with common diseases and traits like allergies. In this case, the scientists identified 11 variants that were not previously known to be associated with a shared risk for asthma, hay fever, and eczema. The variants were in or near nine genes with a function that is relevant to the allergic response, according to the researchers.

“Our genetic findings suggest that drugs that target these genes might have an increased probability of success if prioritized for clinical development,” the researchers concluded.

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