Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is characterized by delayed hypersensitivity to non-primate mammalian meat in people having specific immunoglobulin E (sIgE) to the oligosaccharide galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose. AGS has been linked to tick bites from Amblyomma americanum (Aa) in the U.S. A small animal model of meat allergy is needed to study the mechanism of alpha-gal sensitization, the effector phase leading to delayed allergic responses and potential therapeutics to treat AGS.
Eight- to ten-weeks old mice with a targeted inactivation of alpha-1,3-galactosyltransferase (AGKO) were injected intradermally with 50 μg of Aa tick salivary gland extract (TSGE) on days 0, 7, 21, 28, 42, and 49. Total IgE and alpha-gal sIgE were quantitated on Day 56 by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Mice were challenged orally with 400 mg of cooked pork kidney homogenate or pork fat. Reaction severity was assessed by measuring a drop in core body temperature and scoring allergic signs.
Compared to control animals, mice treated with TSGE had 190-fold higher total IgE on Day 56 (0.60 ± 0.12 ng/ml vs. 113.2 ± 24.77 ng/ml; p < 0.001). Alpha-gal sIgE was also produced in AGKO mice following TSGE sensitization (undetected vs. 158.4 ± 72.43 pg/ml). Further, sensitized mice displayed moderate clinical allergic signs along with a drop in core body temperature of ≥2°C as an objective measure of a systemic allergic reaction. Interestingly, female mice had higher total IgE responses to TSGE treatment but male mice had larger declines in mean body temperature.
TSGE-sensitized AGKO mice generate sIgE to alpha-gal and demonstrate characteristic allergic responses to pork fat and pork kidney. In keeping with the AGS responses documented in humans, mice reacted more rapidly to organ meat than to high fat pork challenge. This mouse model establishes the central role of tick bites in the development of AGS and provides a small animal model to mechanistically study mammalian meat allergy.

© 2021 The Authors. Immunity, Inflammation and Disease published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.