Researchers at McMaster University and the Danish pharmaceutical company ALK-Abello have discovered a new type of memory B cell with unique features and a unique genetic signature that could be a target for new immunotherapies for allergies. Details are published in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine titled, “Type 2–polarized memory B cells hold allergen-specific IgE memory.”

Their research showed that allergic people have this memory cell, dubbed MBC2, against their particular allergens in contrast to non-allergic people who have very little of it, according to Josh Koenig, PhD, assistant professor with McMaster’s department of medicine and co-lead of the study. “Let’s say you’re allergic to peanuts. Your immune system, because of MBC2, remembers that you’re allergic to peanuts, and when you encounter them again, it creates more of the antibodies that make you allergic.”

For this study, the researchers created tetramers out of allergens like birch pollen and peanuts and used them to locate memory B cells. Details of how to use tetramers to find MBC2 cells are described in a separate paper that was published in Nature Protocols last month. They also collected samples from patients in ALK clinical trials of an investigational sublingual immunotherapy for peanut allergies, and performed single cell transcriptomics and deep sequencing on antibody gene repertoires from them to directly connect MBC2 and the IgE antibody.

“Finding the cells that hold IgE memory is a key step forward and a game-changer in our understanding of what causes allergy and how treatment, such as allergy immunotherapy, can modify the disease,” according to Peter Sejer Andersen, senior vice president and head of research at ALK.

Kelly Burton, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and one of the research leads on the new study, added that the findings point to a couple of potential therapeutic approaches. “The first is targeting those MBC2s and eliminating them from an allergic person. The other option could involve changing their function and have them do something that’s not going to be ultimately harmful when the individual is exposed to the allergen,” she said. 

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