The gases, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, may instigate chemical changes in certain airborne allergens, the findings showed.The study presented at the 249th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) could help explain why airborne allergies are becoming more common, forcing more people to sneeze, sniffle and wheeze during allergy season.

"Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide. But understanding the underlying chemical processes behind this phenomenon has proven elusive," said Ulrich PAschl from Max Planck Institute in Germany.

"Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur and how they may affect allergenicity," Posch added.

The researchers examined how traffic-related air pollutants could increase the strength of the allergens.  

In laboratory tests and computer simulations, they studied the effects of various levels of ozone and nitrogen dioxide on the major birch pollen allergen called Bet v 1. The researchers determined that ozone -- the main component of smog -- oxidizes an amino acid called tyrosine that helps form Bet v 1 proteins.

This transformation sets in motion a chain of chemical reactions that involves reactive oxygen intermediates and can bind proteins together, altering their structures and their potential biological effects.
When this occurs, the cross-linked proteins can become more potent allergens, the researchers noted.

Poschl's team also found that nitrogen dioxide, a component of automobile exhaust, appears to alter the polarity and binding capabilities of Bet v 1 allergenic proteins.

This, in conjunction with the effects of ozone, the researchers noted, may enhance the immune response of the body to these particles, particularly in humid, wet and smoggy environments.


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