Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Atopic Disease
Medical College of Wisconsin
MACC Fund Research Center
Allergies are a major health burden with the number of people afflicted increasing rapidly in the westernized world. It is not known why these diseases are increasing, but severe viral infections early in life have been shown to greatly increase a child’s risk of developing asthma and allergies.
To understand the mechanisms behind how a viral infection can lead to allergic disease, we have been using a mouse model where the mice develop allergies and asthma after a single respiratory viral infection.
Our studies are now focused on trying to understand the specific cells that are involved in this response, and seeing how they translate the viral infection into allergic disease. Additional work has begun to determine whether the pathways identified in mice are also operative in humans. Our preliminary data suggest that our model is indeed relevant to human disease.
While these initial studies were focused on the lungs and respiratory infections, we are now exploring whether similar events could occur in the intestinal tract. If successful, these studies may outline a novel mechanism through which children could develop food allergies. We hope that our studies (and the lung specific studies mentioned above) will ultimately lead to the development of therapeutic interventions to stop or prevent the development of allergies throughout childhood. As a side benefit of these studies, we also hope to better understand the immune system response to viral infections in both the lungs and intestinal tract.