The researchers combined advanced computational methods with experimental studies to better understand, at the cellular level, how the plant compound formononetin could be used to treat food allergies. With nearly 10% of the world’s population affected by sometimes life-threatening food allergies, new treatments are needed.
Formononetin is found in plants and herbs such as red clover and green beans and has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. It is a phytoestrogen, which means it is similar in structure to the hormone estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors in the body.
Ibrahim Musa, New York School of Medicine
This protein-protein interaction network was constructed by mapping potential targets in food allergy, IgE and mast cells in the Strings database. The size of the node from large to small is proportional to its degree value in the network. The circles represent the therapeutic targets and the purple lines represent the interaction between the nodes.
“Our results show that formononetin is a particularly good therapeutic candidate for the treatment of food allergies,” said Ibrahim Musa, a doctoral candidate in pathology, microbiology and immunology at New York Medical College. “Our research has also revealed new mechanisms and targets that can be used to design future drugs for the treatment of food allergies and other allergic disorders or to prevent the severe anaphylaxis seen in allergic diseases.”
Musa will present the new research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology during the Experimental Biology (EB) Congress 2022which will be held from April 2 to 5 in Philadelphia.
Food allergies occur when the immune system treats a food or something in a food as a threat. This causes the immune system to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies which react to food and can cause allergic symptoms such as hives, asthma, itching, difficulty breathing or diarrhea.
In previous studies, researchers have identified formononetin as a potential therapeutic agent for allergies because it decreases IgE production. To find out more, the researchers turned to an approach known as systems pharmacology. This involved using data from publicly available databases to identify gene and protein targets regulated in food allergy and mast cell disease. Mast cells also play an important role in IgE-mediated allergic diseases.
Once they identified gene and protein targets, the researchers validated them using cultured cell lines commonly used in allergy studies. These cellular experiments showed that formononetin influenced the expression of gene and protein targets identified using systems pharmacology.
“Our study demonstrates that systemic pharmacology can be used to predict drug/compound-target interaction,” Musa said. “Furthermore, the mechanism of action identified for formononetin is also important for other allergic diseases such as allergic asthma and hay fever. This suggests that formononetin or other therapeutic candidates that decrease IgE production might be useful in treating these diseases.
The researchers have developed a mouse model of peanut allergy which they plan to use to study formononetin and identify potential side effects.
Ibrahim Moussa will present this research from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5 at Exhibit/Poster Hall AB, Pennsylvania Convention Center (Billboard number A235) (abstract).