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Cat allergy cause discovered, cure in the works, scientists say

A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge has discovered the cause of allergic reactions to cats, giving watery-eyed feline fanciers everywhere hope for a cure.

The researchers said they have found a protein in cat dander, or dead skin cells, that interacts with a chemical in the human body and leads to allergy symptoms, such as itching, sneezing, or even an asthma attack.

When the dander protein, known as Fel d 1, combines with a common environmental bacterial toxin called lipopolysaccharides, or LPS, it activates an immune receptor called TLR 4, triggering allergy symptoms.

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"How cat dander causes such a severe allergic reaction in some people has long been a mystery," said Clare Bryant, the lead author of the study. "Not only did we find out that LPS exacerbates the immune response's reaction to cat dander, we identified the part of [the] immune system that recognizes it."

The researchers then used a drug that inhibits TLR 4 and blocked the allergic response.

"As drugs have already been developed to inhibit the receptor TLR 4, we are hopeful that our research will lead to new and improved treatments for cat and possibly dog allergy sufferers," Bryant added.

Allergic reactions are what happen when the immune system overreacts to a perceived danger. It misidentifies allergens, such as cat dander, as a harmful virus or bacteria, and responds defensively.

Bryant's research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.