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Basophil activation tests for the diagnosis of food allergy in children


Correspondence: Annick Ocmant, Hôpital Erasme, Clinique d'Immunobiologie, Route de Lennik 808, B-1070 Brussels, Belgium.


Background Positive skin prick tests (SPT) for food allergens and specific IgE (sIgE) in serum indicate sensitization but do not enable distinction between sensitized but tolerant and clinically allergic patients.

Objective Herein, we evaluate the clinical relevance of basophil activation tests (BATs) for peanut or egg allergy diagnosis.

Methods Thirty-two peanut-allergic, 14 peanut-sensitized (sIgE+ and/or SPT+ to peanuts) but tolerant children and 29 controls with no history of an adverse reaction to peanuts were included. Similarly, 31 egg-allergic, 14 egg-sensitized children (sIgE+ and/or SPT+ to egg white) and 22 controls were studied. Flow cytometric analysis of CD63 expression or CD203c upregulation on basophils and the production of leukotrienes (LT) were performed in response to an in vitro crude peanut extract or ovalbumin (OVA) challenge.

Results After in vitro peanut challenge, the basophils from peanut-allergic children showed significantly higher levels of activation than those from controls (P<0.001). After OVA challenge, a similar distinction (P<0.001) was observed between egg-allergics and controls. Interestingly, the majority of egg- or peanut-sensitized children failed to activate basophils, respectively, in response to OVA and peanut challenge. The sensitivity of the CD63, CD203c and LT assay was 86.7%, 89.5% and 76.0% with a specificity of 94.1%, 97.1% and 94.6% for peanut allergy diagnosis. The corresponding performances of BATs applied to egg allergy diagnosis were 88.9%, 62.5% and 77.8% for the sensitivity and 100%, 96.4% and 96.4% for the specificity.

Conclusion Neither conventional tests nor BATs are sensitive and specific enough to predict food allergy accurately. However, BATs may helpfully complete conventional tests, especially SPT, allowing improved discrimination between allergic and non-allergic individuals.