Background Previous studies on allergy to feathers have not adddressed whether orgatiisms living on feathers (mites. lice, moulds) are a source of allergens.
Objective To investigate whether feather mites produced allergens of clinical relevance to bird keepers.
Methods We examined serum IgE responses of 96 pigeon breeders to an extract of feather mites from pigeons (predominantly Diplaegidia columbae). using Western blotting, specific IgE assay using AlaSTAT EIA and RAST inhibition.
Results Feather mites are a major source of soluble proteins derived from feathers, accounting for up to 10% of the total weight of the feather. Forty-three sera had a negative score (0) for anti-feather mite IgE. 27 were weakly positive (1–2) and 26 had strongly positive scores (3–4). Fewer pigeon breeders with scores ± 3 were asymptomatic than those with negative scores (12 versus 40%). more had late onset symptoms (with or without early onset symptoms; 77% versus 44%) and had IgE antibody against house dust mite (89% versus 23%). Western blotting of eight sera against the extract of Diplaegidia columbae revealed 20 IgE-binding components ranging from 22 to 200 kDa. A high diversity of components was recognized by each serum: arithmetic mean 7 (range 2 14). RAST inhibition indicated feather mites had species-specific epitopes as well as ones that cross-reacted with Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus.
Conclusion Strongly-positive AlaSTAT scores to pigeon leather mite were associated with allergic symptoms of late onset in pigeon breeders. We conclude that feather mites are a major source of clinically-relevant allergens for pigeon breeders.