Sensitisation, asthma, and a modified Th2 response in children exposed to cat allergen: a population-based cross-sectional study

Lancet. 2001 Mar 10;357(9258):752-6. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04168-4.


Background: Although asthma is strongly associated with immediate hypersensitivity to indoor allergens, several studies have suggested that a cat in the house can decrease the risk of asthma. We investigated the immune response to cat and mite allergens, and asthma among children with a wide range of allergen exposure.

Methods: We did a population-based cross-sectional study of children (aged 12-14 years), some of whom had symptoms of asthma and bronchial hyper-reactivity. Antibodies to mite (Der f 1) and cat (Fel d 1) allergens measured by isotype (IgG and IgG4) specific radioimmunoprecipitation assays were compared with sensitisation and allergen concentrations in house dust.

Findings: 226 children were recruited, 47 of whom had symptoms of asthma and bronchial hyper-reactivity. Increasing exposure to mite was associated with increased prevalence of sensitisation and IgG antibody to Der f 1. By contrast, the highest exposure to cat was associated with decreased sensitisation, but a higher prevalence of IgG antibody to Fel d 1. Thus, among children with high exposure, the odds of sensitisation to mite rather than cat was 4.0 (99% CI 1.49-10.00). Furthermore, 31 of 76 children with 23 microg Fel d 1 at home, who were not sensitised to cat allergen had >125 units of IgG antibody to Fel d 1. Antibodies to Fel d 1 of the IgG4 isotype were strongly correlated with IgG antibody in both allergic and non-allergic children (r=0.84 and r=0.66, respectively). Sensitisation to mite or cat allergens was the strongest independent risk factor for asthma (p<0.001).

Interpretation: Exposure to cat allergen can produce an IgG and IgG4 antibody response without sensitisation or risk of asthma. This modified T-helper-2 cell response should be regarded as a form of tolerance and may be the correct objective of immunotherapy. The results may also explain the observation that animals in the house can decrease the risk of asthma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Allergens*
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Dermatophagoides
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Cats*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / immunology*
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mites*
  • Radioallergosorbent Test
  • Skin Tests
  • Th2 Cells / immunology*


  • Allergens
  • Antigens, Dermatophagoides
  • Glycoproteins
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Fel d 1 protein, Felis domesticus