Genetic Biomarkers Can Help Define Severity of an Individual’s Food Allergy


Researchers find correlation of increased anaphylaxis with the use of a-tryptase.

Genetic biomarkers could aid the prediction of the severity of food allergy reactions, based on new findings from researchers from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. There are no current studies that depict a severe life-threatening food reaction or more mild symptoms in individuals with food allergies.

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Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the researchers conducted a study in individuals from an observational food allergy cohort and children with an oral peanut allergy, and genotyping, that found a connection between a-tryptase and anaphylaxis.1

Genetic biomarkers are defined as molecules that can indicate normal or abnormal processes that are occurring within an individual’s body. Varying types of biomarkers include genes, proteins, and hormones that indicate a trigger in an individual’s health.2

The press release notes that tryptase is an enzyme that is found in mast white blood cells that are a part of the immune system. These mast cells activate when an allergic reaction occurs. The tryptase enzyme is encoded by the TPSAB1 gene. In the occurrence of an allergic reaction, the TPSAB1 copy number increases.1

“Determining whether or not a patient with food allergies has α-tryptase can easily be done in clinical practice using a commercially available test to perform genetic sequencing from cheek swabs,” said Abigail Lang, MD, MSc, lead author, attending physician and researcher at Lurie Children’s and assistant professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “If the biomarker is detected, this may help us understand that the child is at a higher risk for a severe reaction or anaphylaxis from their food allergy and should use their epinephrine auto-injector if exposed to the allergen. Our findings also open the door to developing an entirely new treatment strategy for food allergies that would target or block α-tryptase. This is an exciting first step and more research is needed.”

The study conducted by Lang included 119 participants that endured TPSAB1 genotyping, 82 were from an observational food allergy cohort at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and 37 were from a cohort of children that had a reaction to an oral peanut food challenge at Lurie Children’s Hospital.1

The researchers found that TPSAB1 gene relates to an increase of anaphylaxis or a severe reaction to food compared to individuals without a-tryptase.1

“We need to validate our preliminary findings in a much larger study, but these initial results are promising,” Lang said. “We also still need a better understanding of why and how α-tryptase makes food allergy reactions more severe in order to pursue this avenue for potential treatment.”


  1. Genetic biomarker may predict severity of food allergy. EurekAlert!. News release. September 20, 2023. Accessed September 25, 2023.
  2. The Growing Importance of Biomarkers in Cancer. My Cancer. News release. Accessed September 25, 2023.
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