Background The involvement of IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reactions in the genesis of gastrointestinal symptoms after ingestion of foods containing wheat has been rarely reported.
Objective To detect IgE specifically binding to wheat proteins in the sera of atopic and non-atopic patients suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms after ingestion of wheat and to evaluate the reliability of skin prick test and CAP in the diagnosis of food allergy to wheat.
Methods The sera of patients (10 atopic and 10 non-atopic) previously diagnosed as suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and complaining of symptoms after wheat ingestion were analysed by immunoblotting for IgE binding to water/salt-soluble and insoluble wheat flour proteins.
Results All the atopic patients and only one of the non-atopic patients were positive to wheat CAP. For the patients tested, skin prick test was positive for all the atopic patients and for only one of the non-atopic patients. However, immunoblotting experiments showed the presence of specific IgE to wheat proteins in all the patients. Ten out of 11 of the wheat CAP-positive patients had IgE binding to a soluble 16-kDa band, but the same band was recognized, in a slighter way, by only two out of nine of the wheat CAP-negative patients. Moreover, although almost all of the patients were negative in CAP testing with gluten, 19 out of 20 recognized protein bands belonging to the prolamin fraction.
Conclusions For the atopic patients the positivity to skin prick test and CAP to wheat was in accordance with the immunoblotting results and a food allergy to wheat could be diagnosed. In these patients a major allergen was a 16-kDa band corresponding to members of the cereal α-amylase/trypsin inhibitors protein family, the major allergens involved in baker's asthma. In the non-atopic patients the positive immunoblotting results contrasted with the responses of the allergologic tests, indicating that the allergenic wheat protein preparations currently used are of limited value in detecting specific IgE to wheat and that the fraction of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients with food allergy may be larger than believed.