Background The diagnostic approach to grass pollen allergy is now possible by detecting specific IgE to its allergenic components.
Objective To compare the IgE reactivity to a timothy grass pollen extract with the IgE reactivity to eight allergenic components from the same source (Phl p 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12). Both were compared with the skin test reactivity to a timothy grass extract.
Methods A population survey was carried out by means of the skin test to identify grass-allergic subjects, and to characterize them in terms of demographic and allergological parameters. Seven hundred and forty-nine sera were available for IgE detection to a timothy extract, to the recombinant Phl p 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, and to native Phl p 4 and bromelain. Results were stratified by means of demographic and allergy parameters.
Results Ninety-five per cent of the sera had detectable IgE to the timothy extract. Prevalence of IgE reactivity increased from 86.8% to 93.3% as the number of combined reactive molecules rose from 2 to 8. Adjusted prevalences for each allergen were: rPhl p 1 = 83%, rPhl p 2 = 55%, nPhl p 4 = 70%, rPhl p 5 = 50%, rPhl p 6 = 44%, rPhl p 7 = 7%, rPhl p11 = 43%, rPhl p 12 = 15%. Isolated reactivity to rPhl p 1 was 6%, whereas it was negligible for the remaining molecules. IgE reactivity prevalence and mean values differed when patients were stratified on the basis of their associated pollen reactivity and their skin test reactivity grade. No differences were found when age, symptom type and duration were considered. Up to eight-fold higher IgE concentrations were found when the sum of IgE to molecules was compared with IgE to the extract. Testing for the IgE reactivity to the glycan of the native Phl p 4 allergen showed a possible interference with prevalence and value estimation. Higher prevalence values were found in previously immunotherapy-treated patients.
Conclusions The use of a complete panel of grass allergenic molecules can mimic the current use of allergenic extracts, but new relevant information, such as individual pattern of reactivity, adjusted prevalence, correct specific IgE concentration, can be achieved only by means of discrete allergenic molecules.