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Allergy researchers target nighttime ‘clock gene’ activation

Kyodo

Researchers from Yamanashi University’s faculty of medicine have found that severe allergic symptoms at night and in the morning may be caused by high activation of genes in the mast cells during those hours.

The research group led by Atsuhito Nakao, a professor in the department of immunology at Yamanashi University, said if the activation of genes can be controlled by medicine, it would help control when patients come down with asthma and hay fever symptoms.

According to their study, the genes, called “clock genes,” drive the daily rhythm by inducing vibration inside the mast cells.

The research group said mast cells, triggered by increased activation of genes during the night, raise the level of allergic reactions to allergens such as pollen or tick dust and reduce the level during the day.

Development of symptoms such as nasal congestion or sneezing results from a reaction of histamine, a chemical released from mast cells while undergoing a reaction to allergens accumulated in the body, the researchers said.

They hope their findings can improve medical treatment for allergy sufferers.

Traditionally, medicine only tried to alleviate the effects of histamine, which affects the mucosa and respiratory organs.

“If we are able to control the activation of clock genes, we can also reduce the amount of histamine,” stressed Nakao.

Meanwhile, Tomomi Akagi, secretary-general of Atopikko Chikyu-no-ko Network — a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization for patients suffering from atopic dermatitis — suggested the method may be helpful in asthma treatment.

“There are many children whose asthma symptoms worsen in the middle of the night, but there are only few hospitals where they can be treated at night,” she said. “If we manage (to regulate the gene activation) to evoke symptoms during the day, we will be also able to alleviate the anxiety (children in need of help feel).”

The paper was published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.