AllFam Help

The AllFam database is a resource for classifying allergens into protein families. The database merges allergen data from the WHO/ IUIS Allergen Nomenclature Database, supplemented by data from AllergenOnline, with protein family definitions from the Pfam database.

See About AllFam for information on the AllFam team and how to cite AllFam. See References for a list of references related to AllFam and the underlying databases.


In the last two decades, hundreds of allergens have been identified, cloned and sequenced. This wealth of data now enables us to classify allergens into families of evolutionary related proteins that are defined by sequence and structural similarity. Members of the same family often have similar physico-chemical characteristics and biochemical functions. Usually, only members of the same protein family show cross-reactivity on the IgE and T cell level. However, it has to be stressed that neither are all members of an allergen-containing protein family allergenic, nor are all allergenic members of a protein family cross-reactive.

Employing different methods, several groups have shown that most allergens belong to a limited set of protein families thus disproving the assumption that every protein can become an allergen (see References). Hence, the classification of allergenic proteins based on biochemical and structural similarities including the comparison of allergenic and non-allergenic members of a protein family will lead to new insights into factors that contribute to allergenicity. In addition, these data will provide the foundation for elucidating the structural basis of allergenic cross-reactivity.


Construction of AllFam

Figure 1 shows an overview of the algorithm used in constructing the Allfam database. Briefly, the procedure is as follows:

Merging data from the IUIS Allergen Nomenclature database and AllergenOnline:
Sequences from AllergenOnline are matched with corresponding IUIS-approved allergens from the same species by using a sequence identity threshold of 50% (applying a higher threshold for very short fragments to exclude biologically insignificant short alignments).
Comparison with Pfam family definitions:
Single sequences representing each allergen are compared with all Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) representing protein families in Pfam using the thresholds for significant hits defined in Pfam.
Translation of found Pfam domains into AllFam families:
This process in described in more detail below (What is the difference between Pfam and AllFam families?).
BLAST search of unclassified sequences against already classified ones.
Most allergen sequences not classified by searching against Pfam HMMs are short fragments obtained by N-terminal sequencing or mass spectrometry. These sequences are compared with a database of already classified sequences using blastp and assigned to the AllFam family of the most similar hit if the alignment yields a significant score.

Fig. 1. Flow chart showing the process of generating the AllFam database


What is the difference between Pfam and AllFam families?

The basis of AllFam's allergen family classification are protein family definitions from Pfam. In contrast to Pfam domains, AllFam families are defined so that each allergen is assigned to a single AllFam family and that related allergens are grouped into the same AllFam family. This is achieved by the following steps:

Merging of closely-related Pfam families into single AllFam families:
Many families whose members show a low degree of sequence conservation cannot be represented by a single Hidden Markov Model (HMM), but instead by a group of HMMs, each of which represents only some family members. In AllFam, these groups of HMMs are merged into single families. For instance, members of the EF-hand family (AllFam:AF007) contain highly conserved calcium binding sites flanked by helices with much lower degree of conservation. They are represented in Pfam by multiple HMMs, six of which matched allergen sequences and, hence, were merged into a single AllFam family.
Merging of constituent domains of multi-domain proteins into single families:
Some domains always occur together and are therefore merged into a single AllFam family. For example, enolases consist of an N-terminal (Pfam:PF03952) and a C-terminal (Pfam:PF00113) domain, which are combined into a single AllFam family: AF031.
Classifying all constituent domains of different multi-domain proteins that share a particular domain into a single family:
Figure 2 shows the domain composition of members of AllFam family AF043: Hevein-like and class I/II chitinase. The family is defined by the hevein-like domain (Pfam:PF00187), which is present in proteins with varying domain compositions. However, this AllFam family also comprises class II chitinases, which lack a hevein domain. Otherwise, the chitinase domain (Pfam:PF00182) would appear in two different AllFam families.

Fig. 2. Pfam domain compositions of members of AllFam family AF043: Hevein-like and class I/II chitinase.


Search AllFam

You can search AllFam for various types of data:

Allergen names
IUIS-approved allergens are named by an abbreviation of the genus name (3-4 letters), an abbreviation of the species name (1-2 letters) and a number, each item separated by a blank (e.g. Der p 1 for the first allergen from Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus). Non-IUIS allergens from AllergenOnline received genus and species abbreviations according to the IUIS nomenclature, followed by a short biochemical name or other unambiguous identifier (e.g. Hor v nsLTP-1 for the type 1 non-specific lipid transfer protein from Hordeum vulgare).
Allergen sources
Search for allergen sources by species abbreviation, scientific name or common name. For instance, search for peanut allergens by using "Ara h", "Arachis", "Arachis hypogaea", or "peanut" as search terms.
Family names
Search for Allfam family names, names of the corresponding Pfam domains or keywords associated with each family.
AllFam family accession numbers
AllFam accession numbers have the format AFddd, i.e. the letters 'AF' followed by a three-digit number.
Pfam domain accession numbers
Pfam accession numbers have the format PFddddd, i.e. the letters 'PF' followed by a five-digit number.

All searches are case-insensitive, i.e. searches for 'bet v 1', 'Bet v 1' and 'BET V 1' are equivalent. Multiple words are combined by AND, i.e. all words searched for have to be found in order to yield a result.