Tree pollens are among the most important allergen sources. Allergic cross-reactivity to pollens of trees from various plant orders has so far been classified according to botanical relationships. In this context, cross-reactivities to pollens of trees of the Fagales order (birch, alder, hazel, hornbeam, oak, chestnut), fruits and vegetables, between pollens of the Scrophulariales (olive, ash, plantain, privet, lilac) and pollens of the Coniferales (cedar, cypress, pine) are well established. The application of molecular biology methods for allergen characterization has revealed the molecular nature of many important tree pollen allergens. We review the spectrum of tree pollen allergens and propose a classification of tree pollen and related allergies based on major allergen molecules instead of botanical relationships among the allergenic sources. This molecular classification suggests the major birch pollen allergen, Bet v 1 as a marker for Fagales pollen and related plant food allergies, the major olive pollen allergen, Ole e 1, as a possible marker for Scrophulariales pollen allergy and the cedar allergens, Cry j 1 and Cry j 2, as potential markers for allergy to Coniferales pollens. We exemplify for Fagales pollen allergy and Bet v 1 that major marker allergens are diagnostic tools to determine the disease-eliciting allergen source. Information obtained by diagnostic testing with marker allergens will be important for the appropriate selection of patients for allergen-specific forms of therapy.

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