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The basophil activation test in wasp venom allergy: sensitivity, specificity and monitoring specific immunotherapy


Dr Stephan Erdmann
Department of Dermatology and Allergology
University Hospital of Aachen
Pauwelsstr. 30
52074 Aachen Germany


Background:  As in vitro diagnosis of wasp venom sensitization by specific serum IgE has a sensitivity of only 60–80%, additional in vitro tests are desirable. Basophil activation is associated with the expression of CD63 and its measurement has been proposed as a novel in vitro test for immediate-type allergy. Furthermore, to date, no in vitro test exists to monitor successful specific immunotherapy (SIT) with wasp venom. Therefore, the potentially harmful sting challenge is still recommended.

Objective:  We compared the CD63-based basophil activation test (BAT) in the diagnosis of wasp venom allergy with skin tests and measurement of specific IgE. Furthermore, we investigated whether BAT can predict the outcome of the sting challenge in patients on SIT.

Methods:  Fifty patients with a systemic reaction caused by a wasp sting and 20 controls were studied. Intracutaneous tests were performed with wasp and bee venom in the suspected allergics. Specific IgE was determined by the CAP-FEIA method and basophil activation by flow cytometry upon double staining with anti-IgE/anti-CD63 mAb. Twenty-five patients were sting challenged 6 months after starting SIT and the BAT was repeated before challenge.

Results:  Sensitivity of the intracutaneous tests, specific IgE and BAT was 100, 76, and 92%, respectively. Specificity of specific IgE and the BAT was 85 and 80%, respectively. The cut-off for a positive BAT was 15% CD63+ basophils. There was a positive correlation between IgE reactivity to wasp venom and the number of CD63+ basophils (r = 0.65). Although no patient had a systemic reaction upon sting challenge, in most subjects basophil activation did not decrease when compared with the BAT before SIT.

Conclusions:  Quantitation of basophil activation by CD63 expression is a valuable new in vitro method for diagnosis of allergy to hymenopteran venoms. The CD63-based BAT is a helpful tool for the complementation of routine diagnostic tests such as specific IgE as it increases sensitivity of in vitro detection of sensitization. However, this in vitro method does not offer an alternative to the sting challenge in monitoring successful SIT.