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Contact with exhaust gases changes the pollen of the ragweed plants
The spread of the ragweed plant in Germany is associated with extremely unpleasant side effects for allergy sufferers. The annual pollen season is significantly longer and at the same time the pollen from Ambrosia has a particularly high allergenic potential. Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have now found that exhaust gases massively increase the aggressiveness of ambrosia pollen.
The "pollen of the mugwort leaved herb (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) has an increased amount of allergen when the plant is exposed to nitrogen dioxide-containing fumes," reports the Helmholtz Zentrum München. "Ultimately, it can be expected that the already aggressive ambrosia pollen will become more allergenic in the future due to air pollution," explains the study leader Dr. Ulrike Frank from the Institute for Biochemical Plant Pathology (BIOP) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. The results of the study were published in the journal "Plant, Cell & Environment".
Effects of exhaust gases on the protein composition
Together with researchers from the Technical University of Munich, the UNIKA-T research network and the Christine Kühne-Center for Allergy Research and Education from Switzerland, BIOP scientists investigated the effects of contact with nitrogen oxides on the pollen of the ambrosia plant. For this purpose, the plants were gassed with different amounts of NO2, which is produced, for example, when fuel is burned. The researchers then observed the molecular structure of the pollen. "Our data showed that the stress on the plant caused by NO2 changes the protein composition of the pollen," reports lead author Dr. Feng Zhao in the press release of the Helmholtz Zentrum München. For example, various forms of the well-known allergen Amb a 1 were significantly increased. In addition, the researchers found that the pollen of the ragweed plants more strongly bound to specific so-called IgE antibodies from allergy sufferers under the influence of NO2. This is often the beginning of an allergic reaction.
Formation of an allergen previously unknown in ragweed plants
The scientists also noticed that the pollen from fumigated plants is a previously unknown allergen. "In their investigations, the plant researchers discovered a protein, which occurred especially with increased NO2 values," reports the Helmholtz Zentrum München. To date, this had not been known as an ambrosia allergen and it bears a strong resemblance to a protein from rubber trees, which is also present in mold and other plants as an allergen. Further experiments to research the protein are currently being prepared.
Plants on highways with increased allergy potential
"After it was already shown that ambrosia growing on highways is significantly more allergenic than its relatives off the road, we were able to provide a reason for this," concluded Ulrike Frank. So far, the situation here has been unclear because "hundreds of parameters could play a role in nature and on roads." However, the changes in the current studies were clearly due to contact with exhaust gases. The plant, which originally came from America, was probably introduced to Europe via bird feed and has since then also spread increasingly due to climate change. "Their pollen is very aggressive and is already the main cause of hay fever and allergies in America," the Helmholtz scientists continue to report. Because the plant only blooms in late summer and releases large amounts of pollen, the proliferation of many allergy sufferers increases with its spread. The increased contact with exhaust gases also seems to significantly increase the allergenic potential of the ragweed plants. (fp)