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Peanut allergy: treatment with fat molecules can prevent a severe reaction in mice

Consuming a fat molecule produced by gut bacteria appears to offer protection against anaphylaxis caused by peanut allergy

Health


21 August 2022

Peanuts can cause severe allergic reactions

JJ Gouin / Alamy

Consuming a fat molecule produced by gut bacteria can prevent mice with severe peanut allergies from experiencing a life-threatening immune reaction. The findings suggest that the approach could prevent this anaphylaxis reaction in people with food allergies and could even prevent people from developing allergies in the first place.

Anaphylaxis commonly involves nausea, abdominal pain, and trouble breathing or swallowing. Over the past decade, researchers have discovered that a fat molecule called butyrate, which is produced by gut bacteria, can reduce these allergic reactions in mice. People with food allergies also appear to have fewer butyrate-producing bacteria than non-allergic people, suggesting that increasing butyrate might help them.

However, butyrate can smell like dog feces or rancid butter, which makes it unpleasant to swallow. Also, when taken orally, it is broken down before it reaches the lower intestine, where its beneficial effects take place.

Now, shijie cao at the University of Chicago in Illinois and colleagues have developed a way to mask the bad smell of butyrate and deliver the molecule to the lower intestine, packaging it inside spherical capsules called micelles that are up to 30 nanometers wide. “We developed this drug delivery platform, polymer micelles, to deliver butyrate into the gut to treat food allergies,” says Cao, who will present the work at an American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago on August 21.

The researchers treated 80 mice with an antibiotic to reduce their levels of butyrate-producing gut bacteria, then gave them severe peanut allergies by giving them peanut protein along with an immune-stimulating toxin for 4 weeks. Half of the mice were then given the micelles twice a day for two weeks, with the other half given a saline solution as a control, before feeding all animals 1 milligram of peanut protein.

While the control mice developed anaphylaxis from the peanut protein, as measured by a drop in core body temperature and increased immune activity, the mice given the micelles did not. “It was a very exciting moment when we saw the results that butyrate prevented anaphylaxis,” says Cao.

By analyzing the bacteria in the feces of mice before and after treatment, the team found that butyrate-carrying micelles drove the growth of butyrate-producing bacteria, suggesting that the treatment could alter the gut microbiome to produce more of its own butyrate.

“Our goal is to create a niche for those healthy bacteria to grow using this treatment, so that the micelles don’t need to be taken for a long time,” says Cao.

The researchers also hope that the treatment could be used to prevent people from developing many types of food allergies in the first place. “The approach should work with any food allergen,” says Cao. “We imagined that the micelles could come in a package and just add it to a glass of water.”

short chain fatty acids [like butyrate] could absolutely prevent food allergy,” says charles mackey at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “This work can have a big impact if the treatments work in humans. We have to do the tests and I am very optimistic. Existing treatments are crude and unconvincing.”

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