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Animal models of protein allergenicity: potential benefits, pitfalls and challenges


Dr Rebecca J. Dearman, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Michael Smith Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK. E-mail:


Food allergy is an important health issue. With an increasing interest in novel foods derived from transgenic crop plants, there is a growing need for the development of approaches suitable for the characterization of the allergenic potential of proteins. There are methods available currently (such as homology searches and serological testing) that are very effective at identifying proteins that are likely to cross-react with known allergens. However, animal models may play a role in the identification of truly novel proteins, such as bacterial or fungal proteins, that have not been experienced previously in the diet. We consider here the potential benefits, pitfalls and challenges of the selection of various animal models, including the mouse, the rat, the dog and the neonatal swine. The advantages and disadvantages of various experimental end-points are discussed, including the measurement of specific IgE by ELISA, Western blotting or functional tests such as the passive cutaneous anaphylaxis assay, and the assessment of challenge-induced clinical symptoms in previously sensitized animals. The experimental variables of route of exposure to test proteins and the incorporation of adjuvant to increase the sensitivity of the responses are considered also. It is important to emphasize that currently none of these approaches has been validated for the purposes of hazard identification in the context of a safety assessment. However, the available evidence suggests that the judicious use of an accurate and robust animal model could provide important additional data that would contribute significantly to the assessment of the potential allergenicity of novel proteins.

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