Summary Background Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from persons with contact allergy to nickel react in vitro predominantly with nickel-induced CD4+ T cell-mediated production of both T-cell type 1 and 2 cytokines.
Objectives The aim of the present study was to investigate if the contact allergen parthenolide, a sesquiterpene lactone of lipophilic character, elicits an immune response which differs from that induced by water-soluble nickel ions.
Patients and methods Ten allergic subjects with strong (n = 6), moderate (n = 2), or weak (n = 2) patch-test reactivity to parthenolide and five patch test-negative control subjects participated in the study. PBMC from the subjects were analysed for in vitro reactivity with parthenolide by an enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot) assay, measuring cytokine production at the single-cell level.
Results The allergic group, but not the control group, responded to parthenolide with increased numbers of cells producing interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-5 (P < 0·05 for all) and IL-13 (P < 0·01). The responses manifested by T-cell type 1 (IFN-γ and IL-2) and type 2 (IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13) cytokines were positively correlated between cytokines. Subjects with a strong or moderate, but not weak or negative, patch-test reaction displayed detectable in vitro responses. In contrast to the CD4+ T cell-mediated peripheral reactivity induced by nickel, cell depletion experiments identified the parthenolide-reactive IFN-γ- and IL-13-producing cells as CD8+ T cells.
Conclusions The finding that the PBMC reactivity to parthenolide in humans involves a CD8+ T cell-mediated type 1 and 2 cytokine response warrants further studies on the relationship between the chemical nature of a hapten and the resulting immune response.