Seafood plays an important role in human nutrition and health. The growing international trade in seafood species and products has added to the popularity and frequency of consumption of a variety of seafood products across many countries. This increased production and consumption of seafood has been accompanied by more frequent reports of adverse health problems among consumers as well as processors of seafood. Adverse reactions to seafood are often generated by contaminants but can also be mediated by the immune system and cause allergies. These reactions can result from exposure to the seafood itself or various non-seafood components in the product. Non-immunological reactions to seafood can be triggered by contaminants such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, marine toxins and biogenic amines. Ingredients added during processing and canning of seafood can also cause adverse reactions. Importantly all these substances are able to trigger symptoms which are similar to true allergic reactions, which are mediated by antibodies produced by the immune system against specific allergens. Allergic reactions to ‘shellfish’, which comprises the groups of crustaceans and molluscs, can generate clinical symptoms ranging from mild urticaria and oral allergy syndrome to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. The prevalence of crustacean allergy seems to vary largely between geographical locations, most probably as a result of the availability of seafood. The major shellfish allergen is tropomyosin, although other allergens may play an important part in allergenicity such as arginine kinase and myosin light chain. Current observations regard tropomyosin to be the major allergen responsible for molecular and clinical cross-reactivity between crustaceans and molluscs, but also to other inhaled invertebrates such as house dust mites and insects. Future research on the molecular structure of tropomyosins with a focus on the immunological and particularly clinical cross-reactivity will improve diagnosis and management of this potentially life-threatening allergy and is essential for future immunotherapy.
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