Background Ragweed and mugwort have nearly identical flowering periods. Clinical and serological studies showed that ragweed and mugwort sensitization are often associated and this poses relevant clinical problems in patients for whom specific immunotherapy is warranted.
Objective To establish whether the concurrent ragweed and mugwort pollen hypersensitivity is the result of co-sensitization or of co-recognition by using purified recombinant allergens.
Methods Sensitization to ragweed and mugwort pollen was assessed by skin prick test (SPT) in all patients reporting allergic symptoms in August and September. IgE reactivity of sera from 42 patients (26 Amb+/Art+, 14 Amb+/Art−, and two Amb−/Art+) to ragweed and mugwort pollen extract as well as to several recombinant ragweed (rAmb a 1, rAmb a 5, rAmb a 6, rAmb a 8, rAmb a 9, and Amb a 10) and mugwort (rArt v 1, rArt v 4, rArt v 5, rArt v 6, and three EF-hand calcium-binding protein) allergens was detected by dot-blot and ELISA analyses.
Results IgE reactivity of 372 weed pollen-allergic patients was studied. Mugwort reactivity was strongly associated with ragweed hypersensitivity: only 10/147 (7%) mugwort-hypersensitive patients were not sensitized to ragweed, whereas 225/362 (62%) ragweed-hypersensitive patients were not sensitized to mugwort. In vitro, 90% of ragweed-allergic patients reacted with rAmb a 1. Reactivity to other ragweed allergens ranged between 20% and 35%. Forty-six percent of the mugwort-sensitized patients recognized rArt v 1%, 25% reacted to Art v 4, Art v 5, and Art v 6, and 7% recognized the three-EF hand calcium-binding protein. Immunoblot inhibition experiments showed that pre-incubation with ragweed pollen extract only weakly decreased IgE reactivity to mugwort allergens.
Conclusion Patients showing both ragweed- and mugwort-positive SPT and/or RAST are co-sensitized. Future studies will establish whether IgE reactivity translates into clinical symptoms and, hence, if co-sensitized patients should undergo specific immunotherapy with extracts of both mugwort and ragweed pollen.