Ruslan Medzhitov, an immunologist at Yale, and his colleagues published a review of the evolutionary function of allergy in the journal Nature this week. This article proposes that the debilitating and sometimes deadly symptoms of allergy, including rhinitis, hives, allergic dermatitis, and bronchospasm, evolved as a host defense against environmental toxins.
The fact that evolutionary hypotheses, such as the host defense function of allergy, are getting top billing in prestigious journals such as Nature bodes well for the emerging discipline of evolutionary medicine. However, Medzhitov’s hypothesis really is not new. In 1991, Margie Profet published an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology, entitled “The function of allergy: immunological defense against toxins” (QRB 66: 23-62). Profet reviewed the epidemiology of allergy and the molecular pathways of allergic responses and made a compelling case that allergic symptoms protect us from environmental toxins and infectious threats.
As an aside. Margie Profet disappeared around 2005 and has never been seen since!
You can read more about Medzhitov’s article here.