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Validation of a two-color flow cytometric assay detecting in vitro basophil activation for the diagnosis of IgE-mediated natural rubber latex allergy


W. Stevens MD, PhD
Department of Immunology, Allergology and Rheumatology
University of Antwerp
Universiteitsplein 1
B 2610 Antwerpen


Background:  IgE-dependent triggering of basophils not only elicits the release of different mediators but also the up-regulation of certain markers, e.g. CD63, which can be detected by flow cytometry. We intended to investigate if flow cytometric analysis of basophil activation could be a valuable tool in the diagnosis of latex allergy, and to evaluate if the basophil activation test (BAT) could be helpful in determining the clinical significance of a positive latex IgE in individuals with negative history and negative latex skin test. Additionally we aimed to determine the role of cross-reactive carbohydrate determinants (CCDs) in causing positive latex IgE without apparent clinical significance.

Methods:  Twelve healthy controls without a history of latex hypersensitivity with a negative latex IgE and skin test (group 1), 24 individuals without a history of latex hypersensitivity with a negative latex IgE and skin test but with other inhalant allergies (group 2), and 29 latex allergic patients with a compelling history of latex allergy with a positive latex IgE and prick test (group 3) were enrolled. The diagnostic performances of the BAT were further evaluated in 13 individuals with a history of latex allergy but with negative specific IgE and/or skin test (group 4). Twenty-four individuals with positive latex IgE without apparent clinical relevance, i.e. without history of latex hypersensitivity and negative latex skin tests, were also analyzed (group 5). The putative role of CCDs causing positive latex IgE results without apparent clinical significance was evaluated by quantification of IgE for bromelain.

Results:  According, to the receiver operating characteristics(ROC)-generated threshold value of 17% between latex allergic patients and the pooled group of nonlatex allergic individuals, the sensitivity and specificity of the basophil activation test was 93.1% and 91.7%, respectively. In healthy controls, allergic patients without latex hypersensitivity and latex allergic patients the number of positive BATs was 0/12, 3/24 and 27/29, respectively. In the individuals with an evocative history of latex allergy but with negative latex IgE and/or skin test the BAT was positive in all 13 cases. Twenty of 24 individuals without apparent latex allergy but with positive latex IgE had a negative BAT. IgE for bromelain was positive in 1/19 sera from group 2, 1/24 sera from group 3, none of the 8 sera from group 4, but in 16/18 sera from group 5, respectively.

Conclusion:  Flow cytometric analysis of activated basophils seems a highly sensitive and specific tool for diagnosing latex allergy. In addition, the technique might help to determine the clinical relevance of positive IgE quantification in the absence of overt latex allergy. CCDs of natural rubber latex allergens were confirmed to mimic latex sensitization.