Background: Pigeon fanciers' lung (PFL) is a form of extrinsic allergic alveolitis. Affected individuals produce antibodies to various pigeon antigens, and the resulting immune complexes are thought to initiate the disease. However, high antibody titres also occur in some asymptomatic individuals. Previously attention has focused on protein antigens, but we have recently identified pigeon intestinal mucin as a novel antigen in PFL.
Objective: To determine the relationship between IgG subclass antibodies to pigeon intestinal mucin and the development of pigeon fanciers' lung.
Methods: Sera were collected from 250 pigeon fanciers, who also completed a clinical questionnaire. Sera were screened for precipitating antibodies to pigeon serum and droppings. Individuals with symptoms and precipitating antibodies were considered to have classical PFL. Serum IgG and IgG subclass antibodies to pigeon intestinal mucin and pigeon serum proteins were investigated by quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
Results: Very high titres of IgG antibodies against pigeon mucin were found in all precipitin-positive individuals. A strong positive correlation was seen between titres of antibodies to mucin and to serum proteins, but this was not due to crossreactivity. No significant differences in IgG titres to either mucin or pigeon serum proteins were found between individuals with PFL and asymptomatic precipitin positive fanciers. IgG1 and IgG2 were the major subclasses of anti-mucin, with lower titres of IgG3. Patients with PFL had significantly higher titres of IgG1 to mucin than asymptomatic, precipitin-positive individuals. In contrast, no significant differences were seen between PFL and asymptomatic precipitin-positive sera with respect to the subclass titres against pigeon serum proteins.
Conclusion: The high titres of anti-mucin IgG in sera of all individuals with PFL, together with the finding that high IgG1 titres to mucin are associated with the development of disease confirm pigeon intestinal mucin as an important antigen in PFL.