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CD63 expression on basophils as a tool for the diagnosis of pollen-associated food allergy: sensitivity and specificity


Stephan M. Erdmann, Department of Dermatology and Allergology, University Hospital Uniklinikum Aachen, Pauwelsstr. 30, 52074 Aachen, Germany. E-mail:


Background Basophil activation is associated with the expression of CD63. Because allergens can induce basophil activation by cross-linking specific IgE, increased CD63 expression has been proposed as a novel in vitro test for immediate type allergy.

Objective We compared the CD63-based basophil activation test (BAT) in the diagnosis of allergy to carrot, celery and hazelnut with skin prick tests (SPT) and measurement of allergen-specific IgE.

Methods Twenty-nine patients with a history of an oral allergy syndrome induced by carrot, celery or hazelnut (n = 20 for each allergen) and 20 controls were studied. SPT were performed with standardized and native carrot, celery and hazelnut extracts. Allergen-specific IgE was determined by the CAP FEIA method and basophil activation was determined by flow cytometry upon double staining with anti-IgE/anti-CD63 mAb.

Results SPT with native carrot, celery and hazelnut showed sensitivities of 100%, 100% and 90%, and specificities of 80%, 80% and 90%. SPT with commercial extracts of the same allergens gave sensitivities of 85%, 80% and 85%, and specificities of 80%, 80% and 90%. Sensitivity of allergen-specific IgE and the BAT for carrot, celery and hazelnut was 80% vs. 85%, 70% vs. 85%, and 80% vs. 90%, with corresponding specificities of 80% vs. 85%, 80% vs. 80%, and 95% vs. 90%. The cut-off for a positive BAT was 10% CD63+ basophils. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between IgE reactivity and the number of CD63+ basophils for all food allergens (carrot: r = 0.69, celery: r = 0.67, hazelnut: r = 0.66).

Conclusions Quantification of basophil activation by CD63 expression is a valuable new in vitro method for diagnosis of immediate type food sensitization. Although double-blind placebo-controlled food challenges remain the gold standard, the CD63-based BAT may supplement routine diagnostic tests such as SPT or allergen-specific IgE in the future.