Atopy is a highly prevalent condition and remains the single biggest risk factor for asthma. Although atopy has a heritable component, the time frame of the increase in the prevalence indicates that it is not due to genetic factors alone. The relationship between allergen exposure and sensitization is complex. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and its bioactive moiety endotoxin are common to all gram-negative bacteria, and have been used as a surrogate of microbial load. Endotoxin can be readily measured in dust collected from homes. Some studies have demonstrated a clear inverse dose–response relationship between exposure to endotoxin and the risk of atopy but this finding has not been reproduced in all studies. Our innate immune system recognizes LPS readily via the LPS signal transduction pathway, which has the trimolecular complex of CD14/TLR4/MD2 at the core. A common single-nucleotide polymorphism in the promoter region of CD14 rs2569190 C to T (CD14/−260 or CD14/−159) has been associated with elevated sCD14. Although early studies suggested that this variant was associated with more severe atopy, this finding was not uniformly replicated. It has now been demonstrated in four independent populations that high exposure to endotoxin in the domestic environment is protective against the development of atopy, but only among carriers of the C allele, that is, the environmental exposure is only relevant when taken in the context of the genotype. Furthermore, this interaction is biologically plausible. We propose that neither the environmental exposure nor the genotype in isolation is sufficient to cause complex diseases like asthma and atopy, but disease results from the one acting in the context of the other, of which CD14 and endotoxin is one example contributing to the risk for atopy.
Cite this as: A. Simpson and F. D. Martinez, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 209–223.