Background Immunotherapy of grass pollen allergy is currently based on the administration of pollen extracts containing natural allergens. Specifically designed recombinant allergens with reduced IgE reactivity could be used in safer and more efficacious future therapy concepts.
Objectives This study aimed to generate hypoallergenic variants of the timothy grass major allergen Phl p 5a as candidates for allergen-specific immunotherapy.
Methods Three deletion mutants were produced in Escherichia coli and subsequently purified. The overall IgE-binding capacity of the mutants was compared with the recombinant wild-type allergen by membrane blot and IgE-inhibition assays. The capacity for effector cell activation was determined in basophil activation assays. T cell proliferation assays with allergen-specific T cell lines were performed to confirm the retention of T cell reactivity. Structural properties were characterized by circular dichroism analysis and homogeneity by native isoelectric focusing. The deletion sites were mapped on homology models comprising the N- and C-terminal halves of Phl p 5a, respectively.
Results The double-deletion mutant rPhl p 5a Δ(94–113, 175–198) showed strongly diminished IgE binding in membrane blot and IgE-inhibition assays. Both deletions affect predominantly α-helical regions located in the N- and C-terminal halves of Phl p 5a, respectively. Whereas deletion of Δ175–198 alone was sufficient to cause a large reduction of the IgE reactivity in a subgroup of allergic sera, only the combination of both deletions was highly effective for all the sera tested. rPhl p 5a Δ(94–113, 175–198) consistently showed at least an 11.5-fold reduced capacity to activate basophils compared with the recombinant wild-type molecule, and the T cell proliferation assays demonstrated retention of T cell reactivity.
Conclusion The mutant rPhl p 5a Δ(94–113, 175–198) fulfils the basic requirements for a hypoallergenic molecule suitable for a future immunotherapy of grass pollen allergy; it offers substantially reduced IgE binding and maintained T cell reactivity.