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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Identification of Immunoglobulin E

The year is 1966: Lyndon B. Johnson is the president squaring off against the Soviet Union, the Beatles are at the height of their popularity, and Neil Armstrong is training to one day become the first man on the moon.  And, tucked away in a laboratory at the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver, Colorado, Kimishige Ishizaka and his team are busy at work isolating the antibody that mediates allergic reactions, now called immunoglobulin E.

In this month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dr. Ishizaka recounts the way in which he and his team members eventually discovered reagin, later to be called Immunoglobulin E (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 137(6): 1646-1650).  Through complex purification techniques and shrewd application of scientific principles on patients with plasma cell myeloma, he was able to identify the protein that led to a local reaction to ragweed, and figured out that the binding of allergens, like ragweed, dust mites and egg, to IgE on basophils and mast cells leads to histamine release.  Even though technology has advanced considerably and certain practices, like Dr. Ishizaka’s use of himself as a test subject, have changed, the role of Immunoglobulin E remains central to the field of allergy.

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