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Keywords:

  • autologous serum skin test;
  • basophils;
  • CD63;
  • chronic urticaria;
  • cyclosporine

Background:  Functional autoantibodies against the α-chain of the high-affinity IgE receptor (FcɛRIα) identify a subset of patients with chronic urticaria (CU) due to autoreactivity, as assessed by an in vivo positive response to autologous serum skin test (ASST). We performed a study to standardize the serum-induced basophil activation assay by flow cytometry (FCM) using a new tricolour method, assessing the diagnostic performance of this test in discriminating between ASST+ and ASST− CU patients.

Methods:  Sera of 64 CU patients (22 ASST+ CU and 42 ASST− CU) and 10 healthy subjects were tested for their ability to induce basophil CD63 expression when incubated with whole blood of both atopic (DA) and non-atopic donors (DNA). Using a triple-labelled strategy with anti-CD123, anti-HLA-DR and anti-CD63 antibodies, CD63+ basophils were identified on a selected population of CD123+ HLA-DR- cells. In 3 ASST+ CU patients who underwent cyclosporine therapy, the assay was performed before and after treatment.

Results:  The ASST+ CU sera resulted in a significant higher induction of basophil CD63 expression compared with ASST− CU and healthy donors sera; when whole blood from DA was used, sensitivity and specificity of the assay were 95.5% and 90.5% respectively. ASST+ CU serum activity was significantly decreased during cyclosporine A treatment, in parallel with clinical remission.

Conclusions:  Chronic urticaria serum-induced CD63 expression assay performed on DA whole blood by means of our tricolour FCM method could be the most useful tool for identification of a subset of patients with autoimmune CU and may become a promising tool also for monitoring treatment efficacy.