Background The autoimmune subclass of chronic idiopathic urticaria (CU) has been characterized by the occurrence of biologically relevant IgG antibodies against the IgE molecule or the α chain of the high-affinity Fcɛ receptor (FcɛRIα) on basophils and mast cells. These antibodies are usually detected by autologous serum skin testing and confirmed by histamine release studies, immunoblotting, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, but not always.
Objectives To detect autoantibodies to the FcɛRIα in sera of CU patients by a modified serum-induced basophil activation test measured by flow cytometry (FCM) and to evaluate the relationship between the in vitro functional test, the autologous serum skin test (ASST), and the serum levels of IgE, eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) and antithyroid antibodies.
Methods Sera of 30 patients with CU and 26 patients with systemic autoimmune diseases (systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatomyositis) were tested for CD63 activation marker expression on basophils by FCM. Leucocytes from two highly sensitized atopic donors (DA1, DA2) and one non-atopic donor (DNA) were incubated with patients' sera and double-labelled with anti-IgE and anti-CD63 antibodies. Subsequently, the percentage of CD63-expressing basophils was determined by using FCM. In all CU patients an ASST was carried out and the serum IgE, and ECP levels and antithyroid antibodies were evaluated.
Results Twelve patients had a positive ASST and 14 patients a positive CD63 expression assay. There was a strong correlation between the ASST and CD63 assay. Sera from patients with systemic autoimmune diseases did not raise positive CD63 expression on basophils. There was a moderate negative correlation between the occurrence of atopic serum markers (IgE, ECP) and the ability of sera to induce CD63 expression on basophil cells of DA2 (P < 0·05). The female sex was preponderant and antithyroid antibodies were more frequent.
Conclusions Our new technical observation demonstrates that basophils of highly sensitized atopic donors can be successfully used without priming with IL-3 for the in-vitro flow cytofluorimetric diagnosis of CU. With this investigation the characterization of the autoimmune origin of CU is based on an objective in vitro technique.