Diagnosis of drug hypersensitivity is difficult, as an enormous amount of different drugs can elicit various immune-mediated diseases with distinct pathomechanism. The lymphocyte transformation test (LTT) measures the proliferation of T cells to a drug in vitro– from which one concludes to a previous in vivo reaction due to a sensitization. This concept of the LTT has been confirmed by the generation of drug-specific T-cell clones and the finding that drugs can directly interact with the T-cell receptor, without previous metabolism or need to bind to proteins.
In this review, technical aspects and usefulness of this test for the diagnosis of drug hypersensitivity are discussed. The main advantage of this test is its applicability with many different drugs in different immune reactions, as drug-specific T cell are almost always involved in drug hypersensitivity reactions. Its main disadvantages are that an in vitro proliferation of T cells to a drug is difficult to transfer to the clinical situation and that the test per se is rather cumbersome and technically demanding. In addition, its sensitivity is limited (for β-lactam allergy it is in the range of 60–70%), – although at least in our hands – it is higher than of other tests for drug hypersensitivity diagnosis. Consequently, drug hypersensitivity diagnosis needs to rely on a combination of history and different tests, as none of the single tests available has per se a sufficiently good sensitivity. Within this setting, the LTT has proven to be a useful test for the diagnosis of drug hypersensitivity reactions and helped to better understand these reactions. Further work on the simplification of this test and systematic evaluation of its sensitivity and specificity in some main groups of drugs are necessary to make this test more widely available.