Among the apparently innocuous environmental proteins routinely inhaled by human subjects, only a small proportion of these antigens triggers allergy in susceptible individuals. Although the molecular basis of the allergenicity of these airborne proteins remains to be fully characterized, numerous studies suggest that the ability of such proteins to promote allergic responses is at least due to their proteolytic activity. This review will summarize insights into the interactions of protease allergens with the respiratory epithelium. In addition to their capacity to facilitate their antigen presentation through epithelial barrier degradation, protease allergens can directly activate airway mucosal surfaces to recruit inflammatory cells and to initiate the airway remodelling process. A greater understanding of the effects of protease allergens in the airways inflammation as well as on the relevant targets could define novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment allergic asthma.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.