So How do we produce IgE?

Antibodies are a part of the immune system that play a central role in allergy.  These protein molecules act as “scouts” that identify foreign invaders so the body’s powerful weapons of defense can be deployed with precision and speed.  Antibodies are produced by a class of white blood cells known as B cells, which in turn are regulated by another key group of blood cells called T cells.

In 1965, scientists at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine discovered a particular class of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE).  This molecule plays a key role in the most common type of allergic reaction.

The illustrations on page 13 demonstrate how this kind of allergy can develop.  Each fall, over a field of ragweed floats an invisible cloud of pollen grains, which are carried by the wind into a nearby town.  The pollen is inhaled by a child who may have never been exposed to this substance before.

Because of some predisposing genetic factor, the child’s immune system produces large numbers of IgE antibodies, all designed to respond specifically to ragweed pollen.  Several of the antibodies attach themselves to cells in the child’s nasal passages and upper respiratory tract.  These cells, known as mast cells, contain strong chemicals called mediators, the best-known of which is histamine.

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