Studies of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA released from food allergen–activated neutrophils. Implications for non– IgE food allergy

Brigitte König, M.D., Ph.D.,1,2 Anja N. Koch, M.A.,3 and Joseph A. Bellanti, M.D.4,5

View Full Article


Background: Although adverse food reactions are commonly divided into immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated food allergy (FA), and non-IgE FA, the current literature is providing support for the role of innate immune responses as an important component of non-IgE FA. Using a commercially available leukocyte activation (LA) assay, a recent quantitative study of total extracellular DNA released in cellular supernatants of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells exposed either to positive or negative tested foods demonstrated that leukocytes exposed to foods with positive LA test results showed higher DNA content than those exposed to foods with negative LA test results. In humans, the origin of DNA might be either the nucleus or the mitochondria. Analysis of emerging data from several laboratories, including our own, suggests that mitochondrial DNA induces inflammatory responses through induction of proinflammatory cytokines.

Objective: This pilot study was designed primarily to convey the finding, and relevance of, mitochondrial DNA in the form of neutrophil extracellular traps (NET) as a new pathogenetic mechanism for innate immune-mediated non-IgE FA.

Methods: The study population consisted of a total of six subjects, four in a major FA study group and two in a subgroup. Neutrophils were isolated and treated with food antigens that elicited positive and negative LA responses, and the released free DNA was analyzed for the cellular site of origin by using real-time polymerase chain reaction and for leukocyte calprotectin and S100 calcium-binding protein A12 (S100A12) proteins as markers of NETs.

Results: We showed that cellular supernatants from neutrophils treated with foods that elicit positive LA responses can contain increased DNA levels of nuclear as well as mitochondrial origin. Supernatants from neutrophils treated with negative tested food (LA) responses did not induce the release of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA.

Conclusion: Analysis of our data suggested that the induction of NETs that contain proinflammatory mitochondrial DNA may provide the critical link necessary for a better understanding of the pathogenesis of non–IgE-mediated FA. These discoveries may not only facilitate better diagnostic tests of FA but should also improve clinical management of allergic and other inflammatory diseases.