Background: Cow's milk (CM) allergy is the most frequent cause of food allergy in infants. Most children who are allergic to CM are also sensitized to whey proteins and/or to the casein fraction and many of them cannot tolerate goat's or sheep's milk (GSM) either. Conversely, the GSM allergies that are not associated with allergic cross-reactivity to CM are rare.
Methods: Twenty-eight children who had severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, after consumption of GSM products but tolerated CM products were recruited in a retrospective study. Whole casein and whey proteins were fractionated from CM and GSM. beta-Lactoglobulin and the different caseins were isolated, purified and used to perform enzyme allergosorbent tests (EAST) and EAST inhibition studies with the sera of the allergic children.
Results: Clinical observations, skin prick testing and immunoglobulin (Ig)E-binding studies confirmed the diagnosis of GSM allergy without associated CM allergy. EAST determinations demonstrated that GSM allergy involves the casein fraction and not whey proteins. Cow's milk caseins were not at all or poorly recognized by the patient's IgE, while alphaS(1)-, alphaS(2)- and beta-caseins from GSM were recognized with a high specificity and affinity. In all cases, increasing concentrations of CM caseins failed to inhibit the binding of patient's IgE to sheep or goat milk caseins, whereas this binding was completely inhibited by GSM caseins.
Conclusions: The characteristics of GSM allergy differ from those of the CM allergy because it affects older children and appears later. CM products do not elicit any clinical manifestation in GSM allergic patients, whereas CM allergic patients, usually cross-react to GSM. In all the GSM allergic children, the IgE antibodies recognized the caseins but not the whey proteins. Moreover, IgE specificity and affinity was high to GSM and lower to CM caseins despite their marked sequence homology. Doctors and allergic individuals should be aware that GSM allergy requires a strict avoidance of GSM and milk-derived products because reactions could be severe after ingestion of minimal doses of the offending food.