Allergenicity prediction of novel and modified proteins: Not a mission impossible! Development of a Random Forest allergenicity prediction model

Joost Westerhout, Geert Gf Houben, Kitty Cm Verhoeckx, Tanja Krone, Almar Snippe, Lilia Babé, Scott Usre McClain, Gregory S Ladics
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: RTP 2019 July 13, : 104422
Alternative and sustainable protein sources (e.g., algae, duckweed, insects) are required to produce (future) foods. However, introduction of new food sources to the market requires a thorough risk assessment of nutritional, microbial and toxicological risks and potential allergic responses. Yet, the risk assessment of allergenic potential of novel proteins is challenging. Currently, guidance for genetically modified proteins relies on a weight-of-evidence approach. Current Codex (2009) and EFSA (2010; 2017) guidance indicates that sequence identity to known allergens is acceptable for predicting the cross-reactive potential of novel proteins and resistance to pepsin digestion and glycosylation status is used for evaluating de novo allergenicity potential. Other physicochemical and biochemical protein properties, however, are not used in the current weight-of-evidence approach. In this study, we have used the Random Forest algorithm for developing an in silico model that yields a prediction of the allergenic potential of a protein based on its physicochemical and biochemical properties. The final model contains twenty-nine variables, which were all calculated using the protein sequence by means of the ProtParam software and the PSIPred Protein Sequence Analysis program. Proteins were assigned as allergenic when present in the COMPARE database. Results show a robust model performance with a sensitivity, specificity and accuracy each greater than ≥85%. As the model only requires the protein sequence for calculations, it can be easily incorporated into the existing risk assessment approach. In conclusion, the model developed in this study improves the predictability of the allergenicity of new or modified food proteins, as demonstrated for insect proteins.


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