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Keywords:

  • allergenicity;
  • atopy;
  • casein;
  • cow's milk;
  • immunoblotting

Docena GH, Fernandez R, Chirdo FG, Fossati CA. Identification of casein as the major allergenic and antigenic protein of cow's milk. The objective of this study was to analyze both the allergenicity and immunogenicity of cow's milk proteins. To this end, 80 milk-atopic patients were selected on the basis of the presence of cow's milk-specific IgE antibodies in serum and compatible clinical history. Fifteen patients allergic to other allergens and 10 nonatopic subjects were studied as controls. The specificity of serum IgG and IgE antibodies was determined by immunoblotting, employing both cow's milk and milk components, i.e., α- and β-casein, β-lactoglobulin, and α-lactalbumin separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). The experiments showed that casein-specific IgE antibodies were present in all (80/80) sera examined; 10/80 showed reactivity to β-lactoglobulin, and 5/80 showed reactivity to α-lactalbumin. None of the 25 negative control sera analyzed showed the presence of specific IgE antibodies against milk proteins. These results were similar to those corresponding to the detection, by the radioallergosorbent test, of IgE antibodies against the milk components coupled to paper disks. All sera from milk-atopic patients also showed IgE reactivity against a high-molecular-mass fraction that hardly enters the gel. This fraction, after separation by gel filtration and treatment with β-mercaptoethanol and urea, was shown by SDS-PAGE analysis to be formed by casein monomers. All sera analyzed by immunoblotting reacted against the components corresponding to casein monomers. Inhibition of immunoblotting by adsorption with different milk components confirmed that those high-molecular-mass aggregates are formed by casein components. The results presented here strongly suggest that casein is the major allergenic component of cow's milk.