conformational epitopes because they are dependant on tertiary structure (Cooke and Sampson, 1997; Vila et al., 2001). For many food allergens, processing effects are inherent in the data used to characterize thresholds because the test articles used in DBPCFCs are processed. For practical reasons, the test material must be concealed in some way for the study to be “blinded.” For example, the taste of peanut butter or peanut flour must be disguised in DBPCFCs for peanut allergies. Preparation of the test material typically involves cooking or processing of the allergenic food. In addition to altering existing epitopes, processing might also induce chemical or structural changes that result in the formation of new antigenic epitopes, or neoantigens (Maleki, 2004).
Altered antigenic reactivity is most commonly assessed by measuring changes in the binding of antibodies to extracts of raw and processed foods. Reduced or enhanced IgE binding in such studies would suggest that the threshold for an allergic reaction could be affected by processing. However, definitive proof of an altered threshold requires DBPCFC testing.
The effects of processing on some specific major allergens have recently been reviewed, and are discussed below (Besler et al., 2001; Poms and Anklam, 2004). Variable patient responses make it difficult to conclude that a particular processing or cooking procedure affects allergenicity in all cases.
Peanuts. Extracts of roasted peanuts have been shown to bind IgE from patients at 90- fold higher levels than do similar extracts of raw peanuts in competitive, IgE-based ELISAs (Maleki et al., 2000). Using immunoblot techniques, two of the major allergenic proteins in peanut, Ara h 1 and Ara h 2, were shown to be highly resistant to heat and gastrointestinal digestion following treatment in the Maillard Reaction (which occurs during the processing or browning of foods in the presence of heat and sugars). Earlier studies also observed increased IgE binding and altered IgE epitopes in roasted versus raw peanuts (Nordlee et al., 1981). The allergenic proteins Ara h 1, Ara h 2, and Ara h 3 from fried or boiled peanuts bound significantly less IgE than the same proteins from roasted peanuts (Beyer et al., 2001), even though there were similar amounts of the allergenic proteins in peanuts processed by each method. These studies suggest that thresholds for boiled or fried peanuts may be higher than for roasted or raw peanuts, at least for the three major peanut allergens. In practical terms, the vast majority of peanuts consumed whole or in processed foods in the U.S. are roasted. Boiled or fried peanuts are an ethnic or regional specialty and are usually eaten whole, rather than as a component of processed foods.
Milk. Pasteurization and homogenization did not reduce allergenicity in skin prick tests or DBPCFC (Host and Samuelsson, 1988). However, boiling milk for 10 minutes reduced IgE binding of the allergenic proteins alpha-lactoglobulin and casein by 50 to 66% and eliminated beta-lactoglobulin and serum albumin reactivity in skin prick tests (Besler et al., 2001; Norgaard et al., 1996). Hypoallergenic infant formulas produced from heat denatured or enzymatically hydrolyzed caseins or whey proteins showed reduced allergic reactivity by immunoblot, RAST, and DBPCFC in most milk-allergic children. However, some severe reactions have been reported (Sampson et al., 1991;
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