Background For many years, fungal spores have been recognized as potential causes of respiratory allergies. All fungal allergens cloned so far represent either secreted or cytoplasmatic proteins, but nothing is known about the involvement of fungal surface proteins in allergic diseases.
Methods A phage surface displayed cDNA-library from the mould Cladosporium herbarum was constructed and phage displaying IgE-binding proteins were selectively enriched with immobilized serum IgE from C. herbarum-sensitized individuals. Inserts encoding putative allergens were sequenced, subcloned and used to produce recombinant proteins. Allergenicity of the proteins was evaluated by IgE binding in Western blots, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and skin prick test in a total of 84 patients sensitized to either C. herbarum or Aspergillus fumigatus and three healthy controls.
Results After four rounds of affinity selection, the cDNA-library was enriched for clones displaying IgE-binding molecules. Sequencing of inserts showed that one clone contained an open reading frame predicting a protein of 105 amino acids and a calculated molecular weight of 10.5 kDa showing the classical signature of members of the hydrophobin family. The recombinant protein, termed HCh-1, was able to bind IgE from six patients sensitized to fungi in vitro. Two of those patients were also included in a skin prick test survey and showed strong type I skin reactions to HCh-1, demonstrating the allergenic nature of C. herbarum hydrophobin and indicating a prevalence of sensitization in the range of 8–9%. In contrast, the hydrophobin HYP1 from Aspergillus fumigatus was not recognized by the sera of the same patients and controls investigated with HCh-1.
ConclusionC. herbarum hydrophobin represents the first component of the cell wall of fungi demonstrated to act as a rare but clinically relevant allergen in vitro and in vivo.