The most common remedy for allergies — the “hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you” approach or “rush desensitization” — may have scientific backing, new research has shown.

Published online Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the study used mice models to describe the cellular processes that take place when the body is subject to such treatment where small doses of the cause of the allergy is introduced into the patient.

“We have known for at least 100 years that the approach is effective,” said the senior author of the study Soman Abraham, professor at Duke University School of Medicine, in a press release. “People who have terrible, even life-threatening reactions to certain antigens can then tolerate an exposure — if just for a short period of time.”

The immune system’s mast cells — white blood cells with granule-filled chemicals like histamines and heparins — form the basis of allergy symptoms. On exposure to an allergen, the body makes an antibody — immunoglobulin E, or IgE. These antibodies collect on the surface of mast cells in huge numbers. On the next instance of exposure, IgE recognizes and binds to the allergen, immobilizing it on the mast cell, triggering expulsion of the granules from the cell and releasing inflammatory chemicals — resulting in allergy symptoms.

The researchers were able to decode the details of this process by finding that tiny filaments — called actin — line the inner parts of the mast cell. The actin, on exposure to the allergen, breaks down and moves to the center of the cell, causing the granules to erupt.

However, under rush desensitization, the actin can disassemble and move to the center of the cell before time, not initiating expulsion of the granules and hence, the symptoms. The researchers found that despite repeated and increased exposures, there was no allergic reaction.

“Having figured out the mechanism, we should now be able to find new drugs that can target the actin and prolong the desensitization,” lead author W.X. Gladys Ang, a graduate student in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at Duke, said in the statement. “This will allow for recovery to be slower, enabling people to be tolerant of allergens for longer periods.”