Setae from the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) contain several relevant allergens

Contact Dermatitis. 2012 Dec;67(6):367-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2012.02107.x. Epub 2012 Jun 18.


Background: Pine processionary larvae produce urticating hairs (setae) that serve for protection against predators. Setae induce cutaneous reactions in animals and humans. The presence of toxic or allergic mechanisms is a matter of debate.

Objectives: To detect the presence of allergens in setae and to characterize them.

Materials and methods: Setae extracts were characterized by gel staining and immunoblot, with sera from patients with immediate reactions and positive prick test reactions, as well as a rabbit antiserum raised against setae. Setae proteins were fractionated by high-performance liquid chromatography. The most relevant allergen was analysed by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry (MS), and its sequence was deduced from an expressed sequence tag bank. Results. Setae contained at least seven different allergens. The most intense detection corresponded to a protein of MW ~ 14,000 that was similar to thaumetopoein, a previously described protein with mast cell-degranulating properties. MALDI-MS-based de novo sequencing provided a partial amino acid sequence different from that of the previously described allergen Tha p 1, and it was named Tha p 2. This allergen was detected in 61% of patients, and it is therefore a new major caterpillar allergen.

Conclusions: Penetration of the setae from the pine processionary caterpillar delivers their allergenic content in addition to causing mechanical or toxic injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / adverse effects*
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / immunology
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / immunology*
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Humans
  • Lepidoptera / immunology*
  • Moths / immunology*
  • Patch Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spain


  • Allergens
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear