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Sensitization to fungi: epidemiology, comparative skin tests, and IgE reactivity of fungal extracts


Adriano Mari, Via Malipiero 28, I-04100 Latina, Italy.


Background Several fungal species are known to cause severe respiratory and cutaneous allergic diseases. Extracts from several allergenic fungi are used for in vivo and in vitro tests, as standard preparations are still not available.

Objective The aims are to define the pattern of in vivo and in vitro IgE reactivity to fungal species in an allergic population with respiratory symptoms; to determine the influence of different extract preparations on diagnostic results; and to evaluate whether there exists a relationship between the diagnostic pattern of reactivity and the pattern of specific IgE reactivity in immunoblots.

Methods Skin prick tests were applied to a cohort of 4962 respiratory subjects, aged 3–80 years. Fungal extracts from Alternaria, Aspergillus, Candida, Cladosporium, Penicillium, Saccharomyces, and Trichophyton were used, along with extracts from pollens, mites, and animal dander. Demographical and diagnostic data were recorded. IgE detection was carried out with the same allergenic extracts plus Malassezia. Comparative skin tests and IgE detection were carried out using extracts from three commercial suppliers. IgE immunoblots were carried out with the same panel of commercial fungal extracts and were compared with in-house extracts. Data analysis was carried out by grouping the population on the basis of their reactivity to a single, to two or to more than two, mould species.

Results Nineteen percent of the allergic population reacted to at least one fungal extract by means of the skin test. Alternaria and Candida accounted for the largest number of positive tests, and along with Trichophyton they were the main sensitizers in the subset of patients with an isolated sensitization. The prevalence of skin test reactivity increased for these three fungi in the subsets with two associated reactivities and, furthermore, in the subset showing reactivity to more than two mould species. In the latter group, a steady increase of the skin test reactivity was recorded for all the other fungal sources, suggesting a clustered reactivity. Comparative skin and IgE testing with different groups of subjects with a simple pattern of skin reactivity resulted in sensitivity differences between in vivo and in vitro tests, whereas discrepant results were recorded in the subsets of patients with multiple fungi sensitization. Although hampered by the limited reliability of fungal extracts, IgE immunoblots revealed differing patterns of reactivity when sera from the three subsets were used. This suggests a link between the diagnostic reactivity pattern and the IgE sensitization to extracts' components. Age and gender distribution differed among the Alternaria-, Candida-, and Trichophyton-sensitized subjects, but not in the subset with more than two fungi sensitizations.

Conclusions The preliminary assessment of a new classification of the mould-sensitized population has been reached. The limiting quality of fungal extracts requires future studies using an allergenic molecule-based approach. The diagnostic process and the definition of the reactivity pattern would thus be easy, and it could lead to a novel specific immunotherapy approach.