Sensitization to Ficus benjamina: relationship to natural rubber latex allergy and identification of foods implicated in the Ficus-fruit syndrome


Wolfgang Hemmer, FAZ – Floridsdorf Allergy Centre, Franz Jonas Platz 8/6, A-1210 Vienna, Austria.


Background Ornamental Ficus benjamina (FB) has been recognized as a new indoor allergen. Little is known about the prevalence in moderately exposed subjects and the proposed association with fruit and Hevea latex hypersensitivity.

Objective To study the prevalence of FB sensitization and the relationship with Hevea latex allergy, to identify cross-reacting fruits, and to characterize the responsible allergens.

Methods A skin prick test solution prepared from FB latex (200 μg/mL) was included in our routine screening programme for suspect inhalant allergy. Patients reacting with the FB extract were further skin tested with exotic fruits by the prick-to-prick method. Inhibition of fig and FB CAP by FB latex, fig (Ficus carica), kiwi, the thiolproteases ficin and papain, Hevea latex and rHev b 6.02 (hevein) was performed in selected patients.

Results Of 2662 patients with a positive skin test to any aeroallergen, 66 (2.5%) reacted with FB. Ten patients showed isolated sensitization to FB. Although FB-positive subjects were more often co-sensitized to Hevea latex than FB-negative (10.6% vs 3.8%, P<0.01), nearly 90% tested negative for Hevea latex. Sensitization to FB was specifically associated with positive skin tests to fresh fig (83%), dried fig (37%), kiwi fruit (28%), papaya (22%), avocado (19%), banana (15%), and pineapple (10%) (n=54). Clinical reactions were reported mainly from fresh and dried fig and kiwi (47%, 60%, and 64%, respectively, of skin test-positive patients), including seven patients with systemic reactions (urticaria, angiooedema, asthma). CAP to fig in 11 patients with clinical fruit allergy was inhibited on average by 87% by FB latex, 89% by fresh fig, 80% by dried fig, 38% by kiwi (100 μg/mL each), and by 59% and 44% by ficin and papain (50 μg/mL), respectively. No inhibition was obtained with Hevea latex and rHev b 6.02. CAP to FB was inhibited on average by 95% by FB, 60% by fresh fig, 41% by ficin, 29% by papain, and less than 7% by rubber latex allergens.

Conclusions Sensitization to FB latex is found in 2.5% of atopic individuals and mostly occurs independently of Hevea latex allergy. Sensitization is commonly associated with allergic reactions to figs and other tropical fruits (‘Ficus-fruit syndrome’). This cross-reactivity is mediated at least in part by thiolproteases.