Meadow grass, Kentucky blue

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Code: g8
Latin name: Poa pratensis
Source material: Pollen
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)
Sub family: Pooideae
Tribe: Poeae
Common names: Meadow grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Kentucky Blue grass, Kentucky Bluegrass, June Grass, Spear Grass

Poa pratensis naturally hybridises with several other species within the genus, including P. secunda, P. arctica, P. alpina, P. nervosa, P. reflexa, and P. palustris. Most of the 200 species of the genus Poa are distributed in the cold and temperate regions of the world.


A grass species producing pollen, which often induces hay fever, asthma and conjunctivitis in sensitised individuals.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution

Native to Europe and Asia, this grass now has worldwide distribution in temperate regions. It is probably the most important introduced grass in North America. It is best adapted for growth in cool, humid climates. In North America, though it occurs in every one of the United States, it is most prevalent in the northern half of the United States and the southern half of Canada. It is a highly palatable pasture grass and is also extensively used for lawns and turf. Numerous varieties are in commercial use. It is a major pollen-producer.

Meadow grass is a perennial, short to medium-tall, cool-season, sod-forming grass with shallow but dense rhizomes. The seed stems may reach over a metre in height. The abundant, terminally blunt leaves are primarily basally attached, and are usually 10 to 30cm long. The inflorescence is a panicle, green or purple, oblong, ovate or pyramidal, erect or slightly nodding, and open to contracted. There are 3 to 4 spikelets on a typical ultimate inflorescence branch, and 2 to 6 florets per spikelet.

Meadow grass germinates in late fall and winter and is one of the first grasses to resume growth in late winter or early spring. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by wind. Flowering time in the Northern Hemisphere is generally between May and July. Flowering is brief, usually under a week. This grass is a vigorous herbaceous competitor. Not only does it spread by rhizome expansion, it also produces abundant tiny seed, which accounts for good seedling recruitment and establishment on disturbed sites.


Meadow grass grows in prairies and fields, mountain grasslands, mountain brushlands, mountain meadows, riparian woodlands, and open forests and woods. It is common along roadsides and on dunes, lawns, campgrounds, golf courses and ski slopes.

The seeds and the bases of the leaf stems are occasionally eaten by humans.

Allergen Description

P. pratensis contains at least 33 antigens (1), of which 14 resulted in IgE binding using sera from 11 patients with well-established hay fever (2). A number of allergens have been identified and characterised.

Poa p 1, a 33-35 kDa protein, a Group 1 grass allergen, an expansin (3-13).

Poa p 2, a 33-35.8 kDa protein, a Group 2 grass allergen (5, 8, 14, 15).

Poa p 4, a Group 4 grass allergen (8, 16, 17).

Poa p 5, a 31-34 kDa protein, a Group 5 grass allergen, a ribonuclease (3, 8, 13, 18-21).

Poa p 6 (8, 22).

Poa p 7, a calcium-binding protein, polcalcin (23, 24).

Poa p 9 (25-27).

Poa p 10, cytochrome C (28, 29).

Poa p 12, a profiling (8, 30-32).

Poa p 13, a Group 13 grass allergen, a polygalacturonase (33, 34).

Appreciable trypsin inhibitory activity has been detected in Parietaria, Olea, Ambrosia, Rumex, Chenopodium, Holcus and Poa spp. These proteins of the serpin family of anti-proteinases were found to bind specific IgE antibodies from the serum of hay fever patients (35).

Potential Cross-reactivity

Extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus may be expected, as well as among members of the family Poaceae to a certain degree, and in particular grasses belonging to the Pooideae subspecies (Rye grass (g5), Canary grass (g71), Meadow grass (g8), Timothy (g6), Cocksfoot (g3), Meadow Fescue (g4), Velvet grass (g13), Redtop (g9), Meadow Foxtail (g16), Wild Rye grass (g70)) (36, 37). Meadow grass is a very complex species, having several recognised forms highly cross-reactive to each other.

This grass contains Group 1 allergens, to which more than 95% of patients allergic to grass pollen possess IgE antibodies. These are highly cross-reactive glycoproteins exclusively expressed in the pollen of many grasses (7, 11, 38-40). Group 1 allergens are highly homologous, but not all of the antigenic epitopes are cross-reactive (41). For example, Group 1 allergens from eight different clinically important grass pollens of the Pooideae (Rye grass, Canary grass, Meadow grass, Cocksfoot and Timothy), Chloridoideae (Bermuda grass) and Panicoideae (Johnson grass, Maize) were isolated, and IgEbinding to an allergic human serum pool was conducted to determine the degree of antigenic and IgE-binding similarities. The highest IgE-binding similarity was observed between Cocksfoot and Rye grass (53%) and between Rye grass and Canary grass (43%). No IgE-binding similarity was observed between Maize and other grasses. The highest antigenic similarity was also observed between Rye grass and Cocksfoot grass (76%), and the lowest similarity between Rye grass and Maize (23%) and Rye grass and Bermuda (10%) (42).

Highly homologous Group 1 allergens have been demonstrated between Pha a 1 from Canary grass, Lol p 1 from Rye grass pollen (a deduced amino acid sequence identity of 88.8%), Hol l 1 from Velvet grass pollen (88.1%), and Phl p 1 from Timothy grass pollen (86.6%) (43). The major Timothy grass pollen allergen Phl p 1 also cross-reacts with most grass-, Corn- and monocot-derived Group 1 allergens (44). Monoclonal antibodies of Cyn d 1 (Bermuda grass) recognised cross-reactive epitopes on proteins from eight other grasses, including Rye grass, Timothy grass, Meadow grass and Johnson grass (45).

T-cell lines specific for Phl p 1 (the Group 1 allergen of Timothy grass), from the sera of nine patients allergic to grass pollen, displayed IgE binding with grass pollen extracts from Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot), Poa pratensis (Meadow grass), Lolium perenne (Rye grass), and Secale cereale (Cultivated Rye), and selected amino acid sequence-derived peptides. Cross-reactivity studies revealed cross-reacting and non-cross-reacting T-cell epitopes (46).

Group 2 grass pollen allergens are recognised by more than 100 million allergic patients. This study allowed researchers to quantify group 2 allergens from nine different grass families: Phleum pratense (Timothy grass); Poa pratensis (Meadow grass); Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot grass); Triticum aestivum (Cultivated wheat); Avena sativa (Cultivated Oat); Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal grass); Hordeum vulgare (Barley pollen); Lolium perenne (Rye grass)), and one, Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass) without group 2 allergens. The results were in good agreement with immunoblot data (15).

Inhibition studies of IgE antibody binding to Dac g 4 (Dactylis glomerata, or Cocksfoot grass) with other pollen extracts confirmed the presence of cross-reactive allergens in Secale cereale (Cultivated Rye), Lolium perenne (Rye grass), Festuca elatior (Meadow Fescue), Holcus lanatus (Velvet grass), Bromus arvensis (Field Brome), Poa pratensis (Meadow grass), Hordeum sativum (Barley), and Phleum pratense (Timothy grass) (47). Furthermore, Phl p 4 homologues with similar molecular weights were detected in Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot grass), Festuca pratensis (Meadow Fescue), Holcus lanatus (Velvet grass), Poa pratensis (Meadow grass), and Lolium perenne (Rye grass). Group 4 homologues are present in the various grass extracts, but to varying extents (48).

Meadow grass pollen contains a Group 5 allergen. Almost 90% of grass pollen-allergic patients are sensitised against Group 5 grass pollen allergens, and a high degree of cross-reactivity has been demonstrated between grass pollen containing Group 5 grass allergens (49-50). Data from this study indicate the existence of cross-reacting T-cell epitopes among group 5 allergens of different grasses (Phleum pratense, Lolium perenne, Poa pratensis, and Dactylis glomerata) (19, 51). Similarly, comparison of deduced amino acid sequences of Timothy grass Phl p 5a with published sequences of Lol p 5 and Poa p 9 demonstrated a homology of 81.1% and 86.9% respectively. The existence of a common group 5 IgE-reactive epitope was demonstrated. Eleven patients showed variable IgE immunoreactivity to both IgE-reactive epitopes (52).

Recent data suggests that the limited cross-reactivity between the Pooids and Chloridoids may, in part, be due to the absence of a group 5 allergen from Chloridoid grasses (53).

A monoclonal human IgE antibody has been shown to cross-react with Group 5A isoallergens from several grass and Corn species (54). Polymorphic forms of Pha a 5 from Canary grass have been shown to share significant sequence identity with other Group 5 allergens from Rye grass, Timothy and Meadow grass pollens (43). Group 5 allergens of Timothy grass (Phl p 5) bear T-cell epitopes cross-reacting with Group 1 allergens of Rye grass (Lol p 1) (55). Group 5 allergens have been detected in Timothy, Rye grass, Meadow grass and Cocksfoot extracts. The major components in these fractions were found to be 25-28 kDa proteins, and IgE binding to these components was confirmed using a pool of grass-allergic sera (18).

Natural pollen extracts from Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal grass), Avena sativa (Cultivated Oat), Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass), Lolium perenne (Rye grass), Phragmites australis (Common Reed), Poa pratensis (Meadow grass), Secale cereale (Cultivated Rye grass), Triticum sativum (Cultivated Wheat), and Zea mays (Maize/Corn) were characterised according to their allergen content by testing with specific antibodies and by IgE immunoblot inhibition with recombinant allergens from Timothy grass (Phl p 1, Phl p 2, Phl p 5), and Bet v 2 from Birch pollen, using sera of 193 European, American, and Asian subjects. Immunologically detectable Group 5 and Group 2 allergens were found in all these species except for C. dactylon and Z. mays (8).

Nine Lol p 1-specific T-cell clones were shown to exhibit cross-recognition of the recombinant Poa pratensis 9 (Poa p 9) allergen, indicating that these 2 major antigens of grass pollen share T-cell epitopes. Sequence comparisons of several allergenic molecules indicated that this cross-reactivity may be due to the presence of epitope(s) with structure(s) similar to the major T-cell epitope of Poa p 9 allergens, suggesting that the major grass pollen allergens share cross-reacting T-cell epitope(s) (25). Further studies of 13 different grass pollens utilising immunoblotting of the proteins by means of anti-recombinant Poa pratensis (Poa p) 9 allergen antibodies indicated that Poa p 9-like proteins are present in 10 other grass pollens, albeit in variable amounts and polymorphic forms. There was a strong association between the Meadow grass extract and this recombinant allergen with respect to their inhibition of the binding of human IgE antibodies to allergens in grass pollen extracts. Taken together, these results suggest that the allergenic and antigenic epitopes of the Poa p 9-related proteins in some but not all grass pollens are similar in structure and specificity (56).

N-glycans have been isolated from Meadow grass (Poa pratensis), Cultivated Rye (Secale cerale), Rye grass (Lolium perenne), Short Ragweed (Ambrosia elatior), Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), Birch (Betula alba), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Olive (Olea europaea) and Snake-skin pine (Pinus leucodermis) pollen extracts. For grass pollens the major glycans detected had identical properties. The authors state that these results are compatible with the hypothesis that the carbohydrate structures are another potential source of immunological cross-reaction between different plant allergens (57).

Phl p 6 or Phl p 6-related allergens at 11 kDa were detected in pollens from P. pratense and P. pratensis (22).

A 15 kD allergen, a profilin isolated from Celery, was found to be similar to an allergen in Poa pratensis (30).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions

Meadow grass pollen is a common inducer of asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis (58-63).

In a Polish study, 22 patients between 13 and 53 years of age with seasonal allergic rhinitis were examined for specific IgE to five grass and three weed pollens. The most common sensitisation was to Meadow fescue (Festuca elatior) followed by Meadow grass (Poa pratensis) and Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) (58).

In a Croatian study of 335 children attending a clinic in Sarajevo, sensitisation to tree pollen was demonstrated in 98 children (29.2%), grass pollen in 210 children (62.6%), and weed pollen in 27 children (8.0%). Of the grass pollens, Meadow grass pollen had the most positive results (n=169) (80.4%)) (64).

In a study in the Netherlands, specific IgE antibodies against one or more of 17 pollen species were detected in 209 of 800 sera (26.1%). The highest responses were observed against Meadow grass, followed by Festuca rubra (red fescue), Phleum pratense (Timothy grass), and Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot grass) (49).

In Norway, in 770 patients with seasonal and perennial nasal symptoms, pollens from Timothy, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow grass and Meadow Fescue were found to be very important causative factors (65).

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, developer of Allergy Advisor,


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