Immunoglobulin E forms a minor component of serum antibody in mammals. In tissues IgE is bound by FcεRI receptors on the surface of mast cells and mediates their release of inflammatory substances in response to antigen. IgE and mast cells have a central role in immunity to parasites and the pathogenesis of allergic diseases in horses and other mammals. This paper describes the production of several novel monoclonal antibodies that detect native equine IgE in immunohistology, ELISA and Western blotting. An antigen capture ELISA to quantify equine IgE in serum has been developed using two of these antibodies. The mean serum IgE concentration of a group of 122 adult horses was 23,523 ng/ml with a range of 425-82,610 ng/ml. Total serum IgE of healthy horses was compared with that of horses with insect bite dermal hypersensitivity (IBDH) an allergic reaction to the bites of blood feeding insects of Culicoides or Simulium spp. IBDH does not occur in Iceland where Culicoides spp. are absent, but following importation into mainland Europe native Icelandic horses have an exceptionally high incidence of this condition. In the present study Icelandic horses with IBDH had significantly higher total IgE than healthy Icelandic horse controls (P < 0.05). By contrast in horses of other breeds the difference in total serum IgE between those affected with IBDH and healthy controls was not statistically significant. Total serum IgE was also monitored in a cohort of Icelandic horses prior to import into Switzerland and for a period of 3 years thereafter. High levels of serum IgE were present in all horses at the start of the study but dropped in the first year after import. Thereafter the total serum IgE remained low in Icelandic horses that remained healthy but rose significantly (P < 0.05) in those that developed IBDH. These results support the conclusion that IBDH is a type I hypersensitivity response to insect allergens but indicate that IBDH in Icelandic horses may have a different pathogenesis from the same condition in other breeds.
We thank all the private owners of the horses for their collaboration. This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation grant no. 31-63449.00 and by grants from the Agricultural Productivity Fund of Iceland.