Background and objectives We have previously reported that high rat urinary allergen (RUA) exposure was not associated with increased risk of rat allergy in long-term-exposed laboratory animal (LA) workers. We aimed to assess whether strong allergen-specific IgG4 responses could explain the absence of a dose response in these subjects. We investigated whether IgG4 was associated with allergen exposure and prevalence of sensitization or respiratory symptoms to rats. The longitudinal relation between IgG4 and rat allergy was studied using data obtained during 2 years of follow-up.
Methods Five hundred and twenty-nine LA workers answered a questionnaire on respiratory symptoms and occupational history and participated in skin prick testing. Blood samples were analysed for specific IgG4 and IgE to RUA. Exposure to RUA was estimated based on personal air samples. The relation between IgG4 and newly occurring sensitization or rat allergy was studied in workers who were not sensitized or did not report respiratory symptoms to rats.
Results IgG4 titres were higher in atopic than in non-atopic subjects, and increased with higher allergen exposure. Titres were highest in subjects who were sensitized and reported respiratory symptoms to rats when compared with those who were not (geometric mean [geometric standard deviation]=202 [5.7] vs. 8.4 [18.3] AU). The association between IgG4 and sensitization or symptomatic rat allergy was independent of estimated allergen exposure. IgG4 was a strong predictor of newly occurring sensitization and symptomatic rat allergy during follow-up in atopic and rat-sensitized subjects.
Conclusion High exposure to RUA is associated with a strong allergen-specific IgG4 antibody response. High anti-RUA IgG4 is a strong predictor of prevalent and incident sensitization and symptomatic rat allergy in atopic and rat-sensitized subjects. IgG4 can therefore not explain the absence of a dose response between allergen exposure and allergy in long-term-exposed workers. We consider anti-RUA IgG4 to be a marker that combines aspects of exposure and susceptibility.