Background: Laboratory animal allergy is a common occupational health problem affecting between 11% and 44% of exposed researchers. Allergy to rats and mice is most common, probably because these are the animals most frequently used.
Objective: We hypothesized that HLA class II molecules, involved in the presentation of allergen to the T cell and likely candidates for controlling the immune response, might be associated with sensitization to rat urinary proteins among laboratory animal handlers.
Methods: We undertook a cross-sectional study of 741 employees at 6 pharmaceutical sites across the United Kingdom who had contact at work with laboratory rats. In all, 109 cases with specific sensitization to rat proteins and 397 referents were HLA-typed for DRB1 and DQB1 loci. Amino acid analyses of significantly associated HLA molecules were carried out.
Results: HLA-DR7 was associated with sensitization (odds ratio [OR], 1.82; CI, 1.12-2.97), respiratory symptoms at work (OR, 2.96; CI, 1.64-5.37) and, most strongly, sensitization with symptoms (OR, 3.81; CI, 1.90-7.65). HLA-DR3 was protective against sensitization (OR, 0.55; CI, 0.31-0.97). Amino acid analyses of these 2 molecules indicated a biologically plausible explanation for the associations.
Conclusion: HLA phenotype is an important determinant of individual susceptibility to sensitization and asthma among laboratory animal workers. Similar mechanisms might apply in other animal allergies.