Food allergies mediated by mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAIT) cells, a novel T cell subset reactive to metabolites

Dr Sidonia EckleDr Sidonia Eckle

Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne

Food allergies affect 1-10% of individuals world-wide and are particularly prevalent in Australia. The current approach to manage food allergies is avoiding the allergy-causing food. The underlying mechanisms of food allergies are mostly unknown, particularly for those allergies that are classified as T cell-mediated.

Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are a recently described, abundant subset of T cells. MAIT cells protect from bacterial pathogens by recognising small molecule, vitamin B2-based metabolites, produced by most bacteria. Given that MAIT cells are hardwired to respond to a small molecule metabolite as part of their protective immune function, it is tantalising to speculate that MAIT cells by mistake might also recognise small molecule food metabolites and this way cause allergic reactions to food.

Dr Eckle’s team will determine in healthy individuals if MAIT cells are tolerant to food metabolites. They will also determine if the relevant allergic reaction is mediated by MAIT cells in patients with food allergies.

This project will provide a fundamental understanding of the potential implication of MAIT cells in food allergies and inform the design of future therapies targeted at MAIT cells. This would represent a novel approach alongside the current efforts to develop treatments for allergies.

Dr Eckle works at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne, and was awarded the 2019 AIFA Food Allergy Research Grant of $40,000.

Content created October 2019

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