Peanut doughnut
A new study is the first to completely trace the changes in gene expression before, during and after exposure to peanuts. Brian Ach/Getty Images for New York Magazine

Those with a peanut allergy may be one significant step closer to losing the allergy, thanks to a new study. New research has identified six genes that cause allergic reactions to peanuts, opening up possibilities of targeted therapy.

The study was led by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) in New York, and appeared in the journal Nature Communications, published on Dec. 5.

The study is said to be the first to completely trace the changes in gene expression before and after being exposed to peanuts, and also during consumption.

Identification of the responsible genes opens the possibility of therapy that would target particular molecular processes.

"This study highlights genes and molecular processes that could be targets for new therapies to treat peanut-allergy reactions," said Supinda Bunyavanich, the senior author of the study and also an associate professor in pediatrics and genetics and genomic sciences at ISMMS.

For the study, blood samples of 40 children with peanut allergies were analyzed.

The children were participants in a double-blind trial in which their reactions to peanuts were compared with how they reacted with a placebo — if a trail was a double-blind, it means that neither the clinicians nor the participants knew which of the doses administered were the placebo.

The blood samples were collected from the children before, during and after the "oral food challenge."

All children in the study took incremental amounts of peanuts every twenty minutes either until the total volume ingested became 1.044 grams or until an allergic reaction was formed, whichever happened first.

Peanut butter and jelly tiramisu desserts
Foods like peanut butter and jelly tiramisu desserts featured here are out of bounds for those with a peanut allergy. That may change in the near future, thanks to science. Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appetit

The placebo used in the trial was oat powder.

While administering the placebo too, the above-mentioned methodology was used. The peanut and placebo were administered on the children on separate days.

The researchers then performed genetic analysis on the blood samples.

This helped them discover which of the cells and genes were active during the allergic reaction, thereby giving the researchers a clue of the likeliest ones to drive the allergy.

As a result of this analysis, the researchers identified six genes as the primary drivers of signaling networks that remain active during an allergic reaction towards peanuts. The study mentioned the names of the six genes as "LTB4R, PADI4, IL1R2, PPP1R3D, KLHL2, and ECHDC3."

The immune cells involved in the allergic reaction were also identified.

According to the study, this analysis helped the researchers identify "changes in neutrophil, naive CD4+ T cell, and macrophage populations during peanut challenge."

"When you sequence someone’s genes and what’s expressed, you get over 20,000 different genes that you can look at. Here, we’ve narrowed it down to six," said Dr. Bunyavanich.

"They’re high-yield targets for understanding how peanut allergy works overall," she said. "If you can stop the expression of those genes, you could potentially tone down or potentially even stop the peanut allergic reaction."

However, whether the research would be helpful with other types of food allergies or not remains unclear.

In Dr. Bunyavanich’s words, "I think that’s a big step in terms of trying to focus where our research goes."