Blocked By Buckyball: Fullerenes inhibit Allergic Response

Author:  Fagan Jeremy

Date:  June 2007

Over half of the US population possesses sensitivity to at least one allergen, and allergic diseases rank 5th in the list of leading chronic diseases. Hence the desire for a new allergy treatment has gained attention.

A research team led by Dr. Chris Kepley from Virginia Commonwealth University Health System (VCU) found that soccerball-shaped, 60 carbon-caged nanoparticles known as fullerenes, or buckyballs, suppress the allergic response by inhibiting the release of histamines and other inflammatory molecules. Since cells showed no sign of toxicity when exposed to the nanoparticle, it is a possible treatment choice for disorders such as hay fever and asthma.

"This discovery is exciting because it points to the possibility that these novel materials can one day lead to new therapies," said Kepley.

Previous research showed that the buckyball is able to stop various cellular pathways. With the newly discovered abilities of buckyball against the allergic response pathway, continued research will be devoted to enhancing their anti-inflammatory effects with the attachment of different functional groups.

Kepley determined fullerene's abilities by pre-treating Mast Cells and Peripheral Blood Basophils. Mast Cells and Peripheral Blood Basophils are the storage facilities for inflammatory molecules and defenders of the body's immune system.

"The immune system both protects us and causes harm, so we are always interested in finding new pathways to help manage the harmful effects," said Kepley.

When Mast Cells and Peripheral Blood Basophils were treated with fullerene and exposed to the receptor that triggers the release of histamines, heparin and other allergic response molecules, the amount of inflammatory molecule released was much lower that cells that were not pre-treated with fullerene.

It was found that fullerene exerts its inhibitory effects inside the cell by preventing the activation of the IgE receptor. The IgE receptor acts as a key that frees inflammatory molecules. By stopping the activation of the IgE receptor, fullerene stopped the allergic response.

In addition to its prevention of allergic response, fullerene can also act as a reactive oxygen sponge thus preventing oxidative stress.

Previous research found that fullerene's size and overall unique structure make it an excellent warrior against reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are free roaming oxygen atoms that can cause oxidative stress when at a high concentration.

Oxidative stress is known to be involved in the onset of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, but it is also considered a culprit behind the aging of cells. Fullerene's role as an antioxidant is directly linked to it involvement in the inhibition of the allergic response.

Future research at the VCU-Health System includes the creation of a fullerene coated stem cell factor and IgE Iron peptide. If effectively generated, the altered fullerene will be able to specifically target Mast Cells and Peripheral Blood Basophils and provide more knowledge on the effects of IgE and the stem cell factor have on the release of the inflammatory molecules.

- By Jeremy Fagan.