HLA associations with occupational sensitization to rat lipocalin allergens: a model for other animal allergies?

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Apr;111(4):795-9. doi: 10.1067/mai.2003.176.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alleles
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HLA-DQ Antigens / genetics*
  • HLA-DQ beta-Chains
  • HLA-DR Antigens / genetics*
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Rats / immunology*


  • Allergens
  • HLA-DQ Antigens
  • HLA-DQ beta-Chains
  • HLA-DQB1 antigen
  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • n 1 allergen, rat