Background: Grass pollen allergens are known to be present in the atmosphere in a range of particle sizes from whole pollen grains (approx. 20 to 55 microns in diameter) to smaller size fractions < 2.5 microns (fine particles, PM25). These latter particles are within the respirable range and include allergen-containing starch granules released from within the grains into the atmosphere when grass pollen ruptures in rainfall and are associated with epidemics of thunderstorm asthma during the grass pollen season. The question arises whether grass pollen allergens can interact with other sources of fine particles, particularly those present during episodes of air pollution.
Objective: We propose the hypothesis that free grass pollen allergen molecules, derived from dead or burst grains and dispersed in microdroplets of water in aerosols, can bind to fine particles in polluted air.
Methods: We used diesel exhaust carbon particles (DECP) derived from the exhaust of a stationary diesel engine, natural highly purified Lol p 1, immunogold labelling with specific monoclonal antibodies and a high voltage transmission electron-microscopic imaging technique.
Results: DECP are visualized as small carbon spheres, each 30-60 nm in diameter, forming fractal aggregates about 1-2 microns in diameter. Here we test our hypothesis and show by in vitro experiments that the major grass pollen allergen, Lol p 1, binds to one defined class of fine particles, DECP.
Conclusion: DECP are in the respirable size range, can bind to the major grass pollen allergen Lol p 1 under in vitro conditions and represent a possible mechanism by which allergens can become concentrated in polluted air and thus trigger attacks of asthma.