Background Cow dust is one of the most important inducers of occupational allergic diseases in Finland. For example, in 1991 it accounted for almost 40% of the new occupational asthma cases.
Objective This study compares the performance of the purified major cow allergen (BDA20) and crude bovine epithelial extract (BEA) in diagnostic tests and examines the role of milk allergy-associated bovine proteins (bovine serum albumin, α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, casein) in respiratory cow allergy.
Methods The humoral responses of cow-asthmatic and healthy farmers to the various components of BEA were analysed with sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and immunoblotting. The levels of specific Ige and IgG antibodies were quantifieated with enzyme-linked inimunosorbent assays (FLISAs). The cellular responses were analysed with antigen-specific lymphoeyte proliferation tests.
Results The specific anti-BDA20 IgE measurement was found to be best in distinguishing between the asthmatic farmers and their healthy colleagues. It proved possible to determine a cut-off value that gave the analysis a specificity and sensitivity of 100%; the distinction between the two groups was highly significant (P 0.0001). In the lymphocyte proliferation analysis, cow asthma was more closely associated with reactivity to BDA20 than to BEA. In the measurement of anti-BDA20 and anti-BEA IgG antibody levels, considerable overlap between the groups was observed, suggesting that these antibodies are not directly involved in cow allergy. When proteins associated with milk allergy were used as test reagents, no statistically significant differences could be observed between the groups, except for anti-casein IgE antibodies the level of which, however, overlapped considerably between the farmer groups.
Conclusion These findings suggest that purified BDA20 is better than BEA for diagnosing cow asthma and that proteins associated with milk allergy are of only marginal significance in this disease.
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