Mechanisms in cutaneous drug hypersensitivity reactions


Professor Peter S. Friedmann, MD, FRCP, F. Med. Sci., Dermatopharmacology Unit, Level F South Block (825), Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK. E-mail:


Up to 3% of all hospital admissions are due to adverse drug reactions (ADRs), and between 10% and 20% of hospital inpatients develop ADRs. Individual susceptibility to becoming ‘sensitized’ or allergic to a drug is thought to result from altered metabolic handling of the drug. Reactive intermediate compounds form haptens, bind to proteins and induce immune responses. Depending on whether the immune system generates antibodies or sensitized T cells, different clinical patterns of hypersensitivity may result. At present, both in vivo or in vitro tests to identify the culprit drug or to confirm the presence of hypersensitivity are not widely used because they are either not generally robust or not readily accessible. In vitro tests require the true immunogen/antigen to detect antibodies or sensitized T cells. As the metabolic basis underlying susceptibility to adverse drug reactions is elucidated, the resolution of immunological mechanisms and development of reliable tests will ensue. This will also become of great value for prediction of individuals at risk of becoming sensitized by a particular drug.