Background: Food proteins differ in their allergenic potential. Currently, there is no predictive and validated bio-assay to evaluate the allergenicity of novel food proteins. The objective of this study was to investigate the potential of a human peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) gene expression assay to identify biomarkers to predict the allergenicity of legume proteins.
Results: PBMCs from healthy donors were exposed to weakly and strongly allergenic legume proteins (2S albumins, and 7S and 11S globulins from white bean, soybean, peanut, pea and lupine) in three experiments. Possible biomarkers for allergenicity were investigated by exposing PBMCs to a protein pair of weakly (white bean) and strongly allergenic (soybean) 7S globulins in a pilot experiment. Gene expression was measured by RNA-sequencing and differentially expressed genes were selected as biomarkers. 153 genes were identified as having significantly different expression levels to the 7S globulin of white bean compared to soybean. Inclusion of multiple protein pairs from 2S albumins (lupine and peanut) and 7S globulins (white bean and soybean) in a larger study, led to the selection of CCL2, CCL7, and RASD2 as biomarkers to distinguish weakly from strongly allergenic proteins. The relevance of these three biomarkers was confirmed by qPCR when PBMCs were exposed to a larger panel of weakly and strongly allergenic legume proteins (2S albumins, and 7S and 11S globulins from white bean, soybean, peanut, pea and lupine).
Conclusions: The PBMC gene expression assay can potentially distinguish weakly from strongly allergenic legume proteins within a protein family, though it will be challenging to develop a generic method for all protein families from plant and animal sources. Graded responses within a protein family might be of more value in allergenicity prediction instead of a yes or no classification.
Keywords: Allergenic legume protein pairs; Allergenicity prediction assay; Biomarker discovery; Food allergy; Graded allergenic response.