Grass pollens are one of the most important airborne allergen sources worldwide. About 20 species from five subfamilies are considered to be the most frequent causes of grass pollen allergy, and the allergenic relationships among them closely follow their phylogenetic relationships. The allergic immune response to pollen of several grass species has been studied extensively over more than three decades. Eleven groups of allergens have been identified and described, in most cases from more than one species. The allergens range from 6 to 60 kD in apparent molecular weight and display a variety of physicochemical properties and structures. The most complete set of allergens has so far been isolated and cloned from Phleum pratense (timothy grass) pollen. Based on the prevalence of IgE antibody recognition among grass pollen-sensitized individuals, several allergens qualify as major, but members of two groups, groups 1 and 5, have been shown to dominate the immune response to grass pollen extract. Isoform variation has been detected in members of several of the allergen groups, which in some cases can be linked to observed genetic differences. N-linked glycosylation occurs in members of at least three groups. Carbohydrate- reactive IgE antibodies have been attributed to grass pollen sensitization and found to cross-react with glycan structures from other allergen sources, particularly vegetable foods. Another cause of extensive cross-reactivity are the group 12 allergens (profilins), which belong to a family of proteins highly conserved throughout the plant kingdom and present in all tissues. Members of eight allergen groups have been cloned and expressed as recombinant proteins capable of specific IgE binding. This development now allows diagnostic dissection of the immune response to grass pollen with potential benefits for specific immunotherapy.

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