Isocyanates, low-molecular weight chemicals essential to polyurethane production, are one of the most common causes of occupational asthma, yet the mechanisms by which exposure leads to disease remain unclear. While isocyanate asthma closely mirrors other Type I Immune Hypersensitivity (Allergic) disorders, one important characteristic of hypersensitivity (‘allergen’-specific IgE) is reportedly absent in a large portion of affected individuals. This variation from common environmental asthma (which typically is induced by high-molecular weight allergens) is important for two reasons. (1) Allergen-specific IgE is an important mediator of many of the symptoms of bronchial hyper-reactivity in ‘allergic asthma’. Lack of allergen-specific IgE in isocyanate hypersensitive individuals suggests differences in pathogenic mechanisms, with potentially unique targets for prevention and therapy. (2) Allergen-specific IgE forms the basis of the most commonly used diagnostic tests for hypersensitivity (skin prick and RAST). Without allergen-specific IgE, isocyanates may go unrecognized as the cause of asthma. In hypersensitive individuals, chronic exposure can lead to bronchial hyperreactivity that persists years after exposure ceases. Thus, the question of whether or not isocyanate asthma is an IgE-mediated disease, has important implications for disease screening/surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. The present Pro/Con Debate, addresses contemporary, controversial issues regarding IgE in isocyanate asthma.
Cite this as: A. V. Wisnewski and M. Jones, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 1155–1162.
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