The Western blot is a highly sensitive and efficient technique in diagnosing allergy to wasp venom


Thomas M. Zollner, Department of Dermatology, Frankfurt University Medical School, Theodor-Stern-Kai 7, D−60590 Frankfurt, Germany. E-mail:


Background Diagnosis of allergy to wasp venom and decision to perform immunotherapy are based on the patient's history, along with skin and in vitro tests.

Objective Given the high prevalence of specific IgE also in non-allergic individuals, we evaluated the sensitivity and specificity of Western blots as a possible alternative to serum analyses of venom-specific IgE.

Methods Skin prick and/or intracutaneous tests were performed in 30 patients with allergy to wasp venom (generalized reaction following sting) along with serum analysis of venom-specific IgE (AlaSTAT microplate) and Western blots. Western blots were subsequently scanned and evaluated qualitatively and semiquantitatively by means of densitometry. Bands were scored ‘positive’ in cases of signal intensities beyond the mean plus 3 standard deviations of control sera. Twenty newborns (age 2–7 days) and 30 adults without systemic or increased local reactions to hymenoptera stings served as controls.

Results Western blot sensitivity reached 100% in the samples studied and was thus superior to the sensitivities of serum analysis of venom-specific IgE using AlaSTAT microplate assay (90%) and skin tests (87%). The sensitivity of detection of a phospholipase A1 and antigen 5-specific band was higher compared with a hyaluronidase-specific band (97%, 97% and 86%, respectively). Twenty-four out of twenty-nine (83%) patients exhibited specific IgE antibodies against at least three distinct allergens. With regard to the specificities, skin tests as well as AlaSTAT microplate assays were comparable (90% and 93%, respectively), whereas the specificity of the Western blots was 70% if the appearance of any single band was regarded as a positive result. However, when analysing the appearance of a specific band for antigen 5 or hyaluronidase the specificity and overall diagnostic value increased markedly, making it the most efficient test (specificity 97% and 100%, efficiency 96.8% and 93.2%, respectively).

Conclusion As allergy to wasp venom is a severe and potentially life threatening disease, false-negative test results need to be minimized. Therefore, the superiority of the Western blot with regard to sensitivity, specificity and overall efficiency makes this technique a valuable tool for its diagnosis.