Rabbit serum proteins

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Code: e206
Latin name: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Family: Leporidae
Common names: Rabbit, European Rabbit, Common European Rabbit, Domestic Rabbit
The New World genus Sylvilagus includes the many species of Cottontail Rabbit, which resemble the European Rabbit in appearance. The North American species called Jackrabbit are actually Hares (having longer ears and legs, and giving birth to already furred and open-eyed young), as is the Snowshoe Rabbit. The domesticated so-called Belgian Hare, on the other hand, is a Rabbit.

Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
The Common European Rabbit is native to Southern Europe and Africa, but is now found, in its domestic varieties, throughout the world; wild varieties have also been introduced in some places, such as England. All Domestic Rabbits belong to this species. They may be various colours but are commonly white, and are bred for food and for their fur, which is often used in making fur trim and felt. They are also frequently used as laboratory animals and are kept as pets. Wild Rabbits feed on a wide variety of vegetation and are responsible in many areas for the stunted nature of the ground cover.
See under Geographical distribution.
Several allergens have been identified in Rabbit saliva, fur, urine, dander and dust, but most have not been fully characterised yet. Serum albumin may be of minor allergenic importance (1-4).
Serum-specific IgE results suggest that saliva is the most potent extract. Overall, 26 protein bands are recognised as allergens. Saliva has 12, urine 7 and fur 7.
Molecular weights varied from 8 kDa in saliva to 80 kDa in urine. An 18 kDa and 21 kDa protein were recognised as lipocalins. Saliva appears to contain the most potent allergen, which probably has a high homology with a 21 kDa lipocalin-odorant binding protein from Rabbit nasal mucosa (5-7).

Clinical Experience

IgE mediated reactions
Of the 90,000 laboratory animal workers in the United States, between 21% and 46% develop allergy to laboratory animals. Of those who develop symptoms, more than 10% eventually develop occupation-related asthma, with symptoms that persist even after exposure ceases (6, 8-9). These individuals are susceptible to life-threatening (but rare) anaphylactic reactions following animal bites and scratches and pricking with needles contaminated with the animal proteins (8). Many animals associated with laboratories may actually be adopted as pets, resulting in allergies in their owners and owners' family members.
Allergy to animals may range from allergic rhinitis to allergic conjunctivitis to dermatitis to severe asthma. These may result from inhalation of or contact with the animal's dander, epithelium cells, urine, saliva, serum or hair. Most animals shed allergens through these substances, but not all species or strains do so equally. Different routes of exposure, e.g., respiratory, oral, mucosal and transdermal, elicit different symptoms.
A large study of laboratory animal workers in Japan recorded that symptoms were reported in 26% of workers exposed to Mice, 25% for Rats, 31% for Guinea Pigs, 30% for Rabbits, 26% for Hamsters, 30% for Cats, 25% for Dogs and 24% for Monkeys. About 70% of laboratory animal allergy (LAA) subjects developed symptoms during their first three years of exposure. A close relation between nasal symptoms and exposure to Rabbits and between skin symptoms and exposure to Rats was found. LAA subjects developed symptoms most quickly to Rabbits (10). The commonest symptom is allergic rhinoconjunctivitis with nasal congestion, rhinorrhoea, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, which can occur in up to 80% of symptomatic workers (5).
While Rabbits are common as pets, severe allergic reactions to domestic Rabbits in homes are unusual. Typically, allergic manifestations are mild to moderate allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, pruritus and/or asthma, contact urticaria and contact dermatitis in laboratory animal caretakers with frequent exposure (4, 11-12). In a study of atopic children with contact with pets, 18% were sensitised to Rabbit and 12.3% showed clinical signs in the animals presence (13). Cumulative duration of exposure to domestic animals is a significant determinant for immediate sensitisation to animal-derived antigens in subjects with asthma (12).
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com


  1. Warner JA, Longbottom JL. Allergy to rabbits. III. Further identification and characterisation of rabbit allergens. Allergy 1991;46(7):481-91
  2. Price JA, Longbottom JL. Allergy to rabbits. I. Specificity and non-specificity of RAST and crossed-radioimmunoelectrophoresis due to the presence of light chains in rabbit allergenic extracts. Allergy 1986;41:603-12
  3. Price JA, Longbottom JL. Allergy to rabbits. II. Identification and characterization of a major rabbit allergen. Allergy 1988;43:39-48
  4. Ohman JL, Lowell FC, Block KJ. Allergens of mammalian origin. II. Characterization of allergens extracted from rat, mouse, guinea pig and rabbit pelts. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1975;55:16-24
  5. Bush RK, Wood RA, Eggleston PA. Laboratory animal allergy J Allergy Clin Immunol 1998;102(1):99-112
  6. Wood RA. Laboratory animal allergens. ILAR J 2001;42(1):12-6
  7. Baker J, Berry A, Boscato LM, Gordon S, Walsh BJ, Stuart MC. Identification of some rabbit allergens as lipocalins. Clin Exp Allergy  2001;31(2):303-12
  8. Wolfle T, Bush RK. The Science and Pervasiveness of Laboratory Animal Allergy ILAR 2001;42(1):1-3
  9. Bland SM, Evens R III, Rivera JC. Allergy to laboratory animals in health care personnel. Occup Med 1987;2:525-546
  10. Aoyama K, Ueda A, Manda F, Matsushita T, Ueda T, Yamauchi C. Allergy to laboratory animals: an epidemiological study. Br J Ind Med 1992;49(1):41-7
  11. Krakowiak A, Szulc B, Palczynski C, Gorski P. Laboratory animals as a cause of occupational allergy. [Polish] Med Pr 1996;47(5):523-31
  12. Desjardins A, Benoit C, Ghezzo H, L'Archeveque J, Leblanc C, Paquette L, Cartier A, Malo JL. Exposure to domestic animals and risk of immunologic sensitization in subjects with asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1993;91(5):979-86
  13. Lelong M, Bras C, Thelliez P, Drain JP. Does the allergic child become sensitized to small domestic mammals (guinea pig, hamster, rabbit?). [French] Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1990;22(1):23-5


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.