The house-dust mite (HDM), commonly found in human dwellings, is an important source of inhalant and contact allergens. In this report, the importance of HDM allergy in Korea and the characteristics of allergens from dust mite are reviewed with an emphasis on investigations performed in Korea. In Korea, Dermatophagoides farinae is the dominant species of HDM, followed by D. pteronyssinus. Tyrophagus putrescentiae is also found in Korea, but its role in respiratory allergic disease in Korea is controversial. The relatively low densities of mite populations and concentrations of mite major allergens in dust samples from Korean homes, compared to westernized countries, are thought to reflect not only different climatic conditions, but also cultural differences, such as the use of 'ondol' under-floor heating systems in Korean houses. HDM are found in more than 90% of Korean houses, and the level of exposure to HDM is clinically significant. About 40%-60% of Korean patients suffering from respiratory allergies, and more than 40% of patients suffering from atopic dermatitis, are sensitized to HDM. Mite allergens can be summarized according to their inherent auto-adjuvant activities and/or their binding affinities to the adjuvant-like substances: proteolytic enzymes, lipid binding proteins, chitin binding proteins, and allergens not associated with adjuvant-like activity. In general, allergens with a strong adjuvant-like activity or adjuvant-binding activity elicit potent IgE reactivity. In Korea, Der f 2 is the most potent allergen, followed by Der f 1. Immune responses are modulated by the properties of the allergen itself and by the adjuvant-like substances that are concomitantly administered with the antigens. Characterization of allergenic molecules and elucidation of mechanisms by which adjuvant-like molecules modulate allergic reactions, not only in Korea but also worldwide, will provide valuable information on allergic diseases, and are necessary for the development of diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: Allergen, allergy, house dust mite, Korea