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The Role of Dust Mites in Allergy

Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology
Jeffrey D. Miller


House dust mites are an unsurpassed cause of atopic sensitization and allergic illness throughout the world. The major allergenic dust mites Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, Dermatophagoides farinae, Euroglyphus maynei, and Blomia tropicalis are eight-legged members of the Arachnid class. Their approximately 3-month lifespan comprises egg, larval, protonymph, tritonymph, and adult stages, with adults, about one fourth to one third of a millimeter in size, being at the threshold of visibility. The geographic and seasonal distributions of dust mites are determined by their need for adequate humidity, while their distribution within substrates is further determined by their avoidance of light. By contacting the epithelium of the eyes, nose, lower airways, skin, and gut, the allergen-containing particles of dust mites can induce sensitization and atopic symptoms in those organs. Various mite allergens, contained primarily in mite fecal particles but also in shed mite exoskeletons and decaying mite body fragments, have properties that include proteolytic activity, homology with the lipopolysaccharide-binding component of Toll-like receptor 4, homology with other invertebrate tropomyosins, and chitin-cleaving and chitin-binding activity. Mite proteases have direct epithelial effects including the breaching of tight junctions and the stimulation of protease-activated receptors, the latter inducing pruritus, epithelial dysfunction, and cytokine release. Other components, including chitin, unmethylated mite and bacterial DNA, and endotoxin, activate pattern recognition receptors of the innate immune system and act as adjuvants promoting sensitization to mite and other allergens. Clinical conditions resulting from mite sensitization and exposure include rhinitis, sinusitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis. Systemic allergy symptoms can also occur from the ingestion of cross-reacting invertebrates, such as shrimp or snail, or from the accidental ingestion of mite-contaminated foods. Beyond their direct importance as a major allergen source, an understanding of dust mites leads to insights into the nature of atopy and of allergic sensitization in general.

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