Background: Exposure to horses can cause severe allergic reactions in sensitized individuals. The breed, American Bashkir Curly Horse is categorized as hypoallergenic, primarily due to reports of allergic patients experiencing fewer symptoms while handling this special breed. The possible reasons for this phenomenon could be lower allergen production and/or reduced allergen release into the air because of increased sebum content in their skin and hair compared to other breeds. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to compare different horse breeds in relation to allergen content in hair and airborne dust samples.
Methods: In total, 224 hair samples from 32 different horse breeds were investigated. Personal nasal filters were used to collect airborne dust during the grooming of 20 Curly Horses and 20 Quarter Horses. Quantitative analysis of all samples was performed using two newly developed immunoassays for the detection of horse dander (HD) antigens and the major allergen Equ c 1 and the commercial assay for Equ c 4. Results were analyzed using multiple linear regression models for hair samples and the Mann Whitney U test for airborne samples.
Results: Horse antigen and allergen levels differed up to four orders of magnitude between individual animals. Despite enormous variability, levels of HD antigen, Equ c 1 and Equ c 4 in hair were significantly related to the breed and gender combined with the castration status of male animals. Curly Horses had significantly higher concentrations of all three tested parameters compared to the majority of the investigated breeds (medians: 11800 μg/g for HD antigen, 2400 μg/g for Equ c 1, and 258 kU/g for Equ c 4). Tinker Horses, Icelandic Horses and Shetland Ponies were associated with approximately 7-fold reduced levels of HD antigen and Equ c 1, and up to 25-fold reduced levels of Equ c 4 compared to Curly Horses. Compared to mares, stallions displayed increased concentrations of HD antigens, Equ c 1 and Equ c 4 by a factor 2.2, 3.5 and 6.7, respectively. No difference was observed between mares and geldings. No differences in airborne allergen concentrations collected with personal nasal filters during grooming were found between Curly and Quarter Horses.
Conclusion: Breed and castration status had a significant influence on the antigen and allergen levels of horse hair. However, these differences were smaller than the wide variability observed among individual horses. Compared to other breeds, Curly Horses were not associated with lower allergen levels in hair and in air samples collected during grooming. Our approach provides no molecular explanation why Curly Horses are considered to be hypoallergenic.