Cincinnati ChildrensResearchers have identified a genetic signature for a severe, often painful food allergy—eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE)—that could lead it improved diagnosis and treatment for children unable to eat a variety of foods. The scientists from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that they have pinpointed a dysregulated microRNA signature for EoE, a disease that also may cause weight loss, vomiting, heartburn and swallowing difficulties.

The dysregulated microRNA is reversible with steroid treatment, according to the study’s senior investigator, Marc E. Rothenberg, MD director of Allergy and Immunology and the Center for Eosinophilic Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s. MicroRNAs are short segments of RNA that can regulate whether genetic messengers (mRNAs) are degraded or translated into protein.

“The identification of biomarkers specific to EoE is a significant advancement for both the diagnosis and treatment,” says Rothenberg. “The microRNA signature provides an opportunity for more precise analysis of esophageal biopsies.”

Only recently recognized as a distinct condition, the incidence of EoE has been increasing over the past 20 years, as have other allergies. Rothenberg and his team found the EoE incident rate is estimated to be at least one in 1,000 people. Its hallmark is swelling and inflammation in the esophagus, accompanied by high levels of immune cells called eosinophils.

EoE can affect people of any age, but is more common among young men who have a history of other allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema. EoE is first discovered in children with feeding difficulties and failure to thrive, but it is often misunderstood and not well known, according to the study.

For more information, visit the Rothenberg lab’s website.