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BLAME GENES FOR POLLEN AGONY

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The reason some people are destined to sneeze and sniffle their way through the pollen season resides in their genes, according to a Johns Hopkins University researcher who has identified two inherited proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction to ragweed.

The proteins are members of a family of genetically dictated molecules called the "major histocompatibility complex," which determines each person's individual tissue type.Shau-Ku Huang found that each of these cell-surface proteins is a receptor, able to recognize and attach _ lock-and-key fashion _ to a certain protein, called an allergen, found in ragweed pollen.

When a person who has inherited one of the proteins is exposed to ragweed, specialized blood cells called macrophages carry the receptor and are able to pick up the allergen and "present" it to other immune-system cells, thus triggering an allergic reaction.

Those who have not inherited proteins that recognize ragweed allergens probably never develop the allergy.

Huang said similar inherited proteins may cause other respiratory allergies and, perhaps, asthma.