Detection of IgG and IgE serum antibodies to Culicoides salivary gland antigens in horses with insect dermal hypersensitivity (sweet itch)


Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Bristol, School of Medical Sciences, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD, UK


We postulated that all horses exposed to the bites of Culcoides (midges) would have an antibody response to the antigen secreted in Culcoides saliva, but that IgE antibody would be restricted to allergic individuals. Using immunohistology on sections of fixed Culicoides, we have demonstrated the presence of antibodies in horse serum which recognise Culicoides salivary glands. Antibodies were detected in the serum of horses with insect dermal hypersensitivity and in the serum of normal horses exposed to Culicoides bites. In contrast, no antibodies were detected in serum from native Icelandic ponies which had not been exposed to Culicoides. Anti-salivary gland IgG antibodies were detected in serum from both allergic and healthy horses exposed to Culicoides. IgE antibodies were only detected in horses with signs of insect dermal hypersensitivity, they were not found in serum of healthy controls nor in the serum of horses with a history of hypersensitivity but in remission at the time of sampling. Using western blotting we confirmed the presence of antibodies to Culicoides antigens and demonstrated that individual horses react to different numbers of antigens. This paper demonstrates the ability of serum from allergic horses to detect Culcoides antigens and will enable further studies to isolate and characterise the allergens.