The Crucial Connection: The Role of the Nervous System in Food Allergies

Scientists have long thought that food allergies are caused by flaws in our immune systems. But after many years of research, we still don’t fully understand why we develop allergies. Because of this, people with food allergies still do not have new tests or new medicines to help them – despite the staggering and increasing number of people who are diagnosed. And that’s where our research comes in. Through our work, FASI has uncovered a major new theory and research direction: the role of the nervous system in food allergies. Some areas we’ve been researching include: 

  • Decoding allergen sensing. We are using new science and cutting-edge technology to understand how cells know when an allergen is around. Once we figure out how this works, we can make therapies that stop the body from noticing the allergen, essentially stopping allergies before they happen.

  • Food-gut-brain connection. Neuroimmune communications is a new area of research in food allergy. It’s an important system of the body that decides if it should cause an allergic reaction or not. The immune and nervous systems work together to make this decision, and knowing more about this could help us create treatments and tests for allergies.

  • Central Nervous System circuits in the allergic response. We’re also using new models and new technologies to better understand the communications at play between the gut and the brain during food allergy. This is helping us understand how food allergies affect behavior.

  • Defining the cellular landscape of the gut. The network of nerve cells in our guts is bigger than the brain and spinal cord. This network, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), has been difficult to understand. Our investigators have built new tools which help us learn about how food allergies happen by studying how the gut, ENS, and immune system work together.

  • The immune response to allergens. At FASI, we believe that our body’s natural food quality control system is important for protecting us from eating dangerous things. This system includes our immune, nervous and digestive systems. When this system doesn’t work correctly, food allergies can happen. So our scientists are studying this system very closely to learn more about it and figure out better ways to treat allergies.

  • The role of the microbiome. Our FASI investigators use state-of-the-art technology to figure out how the microbiome (the bacteria in our bodies) works with our immune system. They also want to know its role in helping us digest food and avoiding allergies. If they can make progress here, it could lead to new ways of treating food allergies and other diseases.

  • The neuro-immune system of the skin. Evidence suggests skin plays a role in allergies, but we don’t yet know exactly how. We are making great progress in this area by identifying the skin-associated neurons that get activated during allergen exposure and how these neurons drive the activation and training of other immune cells in our bodies. A key step in the initiation of the allergen sensitization process.

  • Food chemistry. Food is made up of many different chemicals that come from plants, animals and even things people make. Our body has to figure out what is good for us and what can be bad for us. FASI is working with partners in the food industry to test many of those chemicals and figure out how they work in our bodies.

We strongly believe that understanding this all-important connection between the nervous system and the immune system will lead us to the true culprits of food allergies and help us develop effective treatments to stop these reactions before they even occur. Our hope is that we can prevent our bodies from interpreting a food as a noxious substance and instead allow it to understand that it’s safe for us to consume. FASI is making incredible strides every day toward finding a cure for food allergies, but we need your help! Whether you’d like to join our game-changing team of investigators or help fund our groundbreaking food allergy research, we want to hear from you.