Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Damp building moulds: Assessment of sensitization in patients and studies into mechanisms of airway inflammation using experimental models

Marina Leino

Doctoral dissertation, November 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Clinical Medicine and University of Helsinki, Department of Allergy, Skin and Allergy Hospital and Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Health and Work Ability.

Exposure to water-damaged buildings and the associated health problems have evoked concern and created confusion during the past 20 years. Individuals exposed to moisture problem buildings report adverse health effects such as non-specific respiratory symptoms. Microbes, especially fungi, growing on the damp material have been considered as potential sources of the health problems encountered in these buildings. Fungi and their airborne fungal spores contain allergens and secondary metabolites which may trigger allergic as well as inflammatory types of responses in the eyes and airways. Although epidemiological studies have revealed an association between damp buildings and health problems, no direct cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Further knowledge is needed about the epidemiology and the mechanisms leading to the symptoms associated with exposure to fungi.

Two different approaches have been used in this thesis in order to investigate the diverse health effects associated with exposure to moulds. In the first part, sensitization to moulds was evaluated and potential cross-reactivity studied in patients attending a hospital for suspected allergy. In the second part, one typical mould known to be found in water-damaged buildings and to produce toxic secondary metabolites was used to study the airway responses in an experimental model. Exposure studies were performed on both naive and allergen sensitized mice.

The first part of the study showed that mould allergy is rare and highly dependent on the atopic status of the examined individual. The prevalence of sensitization was 2.7% to Cladosporium herbarum and 2.8% to Alternaria alternata in patients, the majority of whom were atopic subjects. Some of the patients sensitized to mould suffered from atopic eczema. Frequently the patients were observed to possess specific serum IgE antibodies to a yeast present in the normal skin flora, Pityrosporum ovale. In some of these patients, the IgE binding was partly found to be due to binding to shared glycoproteins in the mould and yeast allergen extracts. The second part of the study revealed that exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum spores induced an airway inflammation in the lungs of mice. The inflammation was characterized by an influx of inflammatory cells, mainly neutrophils and lymphocytes, into the lungs but with almost no differences in airway responses seen between the satratoxin producing and non-satratoxin producing strain. On the other hand, when mice were exposed to S. chartarum and sensitized/challenged with ovalbumin the extent of the inflammation was markedly enhanced. A synergistic increase in the numbers of inflammatory cells was seen in BAL and severe inflammation was observed in the histological lung sections.

In conclusion, the results in this thesis imply that exposure to moulds in water damaged buildings may trigger health effects in susceptible individuals. The symptoms can rarely be explained by IgE mediated allergy to moulds. Other non-allergic mechanisms seem to be involved. Stachybotrys chartarum is one of the moulds potentially responsible for health problems. In this thesis, new reaction models for the airway inflammation induced by S. chartarum have been found using experimental approaches. The immunological status played an important role in the airway inflammation, enhancing the effects of mould exposure. The results imply that sensitized individuals may be more susceptible to exposure to moulds than non-sensitized individuals.

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Last updated 08.11.2006

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