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Keywords:

  • allergy;
  • anaphylaxis;
  • basophils;
  • history;
  • mast cells

Abstract

This year (2013) marks the 50th anniversary of death of Otto Carl Willy Prausnitz (1876–1963) and Heinz Küstner (1897–1963). The two physicians, when working at the Hygiene Institute at the University of Breslau, Germany (Prausnitz was the Head of the Institute), described in 1921 what is still called today the Prausnitz–Küstner or PK reaction showing that allergy could be transferred from the allergic person by transferring serum to a healthy person. Their discovery ended the belief that an anaphylactic/allergic reaction was caused by poisons, but to the contrary showed that the presence of the hypersensitivity factor could be transferred to other people. We know now that this factor is immunoglobulin E (IgE), sensitizing mast cells and basophils to respond to an allergic stimulus. We take this occasion to retrace some of the important discoveries and lessons learnt from the last century relating to the function of these two cell types as effectors of the IgE system and the mediators they produce.