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Keywords:

  • food allergy;
  • immune tolerance;
  • liver failure;
  • liver transplant

Abstract

Background

The pathogenesis of food allergy is not completely understood – animal models suggest hepatic mechanisms may be important for immune tolerance to orally ingested antigens, but there is little direct evidence for this in humans.

Objectives

We investigated whether there is an association between liver dysfunction or transplantation in young children and IgE sensitisation to food.

Methods

We evaluated paired pre- and post- liver transplant sera from children aged 0–36 months treated at a single centre during 2001–2008. Sera were assayed for total IgE and cow's milk, egg and peanut-specific IgE. We quantified hepatic dysfunction pre-transplant using the Paediatric End-stage Liver Disease (PELD) score. We also assessed 70 children after renal transplant to establish whether any association between liver transplant and food sensitisation was organ specific.

Results

Paired sera were available from 50 of 94 children who had a liver transplant during the study period. 35 of 50 (70%) had IgE sensitisation (≥0.35 kUa/l) to ≥1 food pre-transplant and 18 (36%) post-transplant (p = 0.001). Ten (20%) children had food-specific IgE levels that carry high probability of challenge-confirmed food allergy pre-transplant. Food sensitisation pre-transplant was associated with severity of liver dysfunction [mean (s.d.) pre-transplant PELD score 1.52 (0.13) in food sensitised, 0.77 (0.22) in non-sensitised children p = 0.004]. Total IgE level was raised in 34/42 (81%) pre-transplant and fell significantly post-transplant. Interview assessment of the parents of 40 children revealed that 13 (33%) had a history consistent with food allergy. These findings were not replicated in the renal transplant group.

Conclusions

Young children with severe liver dysfunction appear to have a high prevalence of food sensitisation. Hepatic mechanisms may therefore be important for establishing immune tolerance to dietary antigens in humans.