Flow-assisted allergy diagnosis: current applications and future perspectives


Prof. Dr. W. J. Stevens
Immunologie – Allergologie – Reumatologie
Universiteit Antwerpen
Campus Drie Eiken
Universiteitsplein 1
2610 Antwerpen (Wilrijk)


Physicians predominantly rely upon quantification of serum-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) and/or skin test to confirm clinically suspected IgE-mediated allergy. However, for various reasons, identification of the offending allergen(s) and potentially cross-reactive structures is not always straightforward. Flow-assisted allergy diagnosis relies upon quantification of alterations in the expression of particular basophilic activation markers. Actually, upon challenge with a specific allergen, basophils not only secrete quantifiable bioactive mediators but also upregulate the expression of different markers which can be detected efficiently by flow cytometry using specific monoclonal antibodies. Currently, the technique has been applied in the investigation of IgE-mediated allergy caused by classical inhalant allergens, food, Hevea latex, hymenoptera venoms and drugs. It is also appreciated; the technique proves valuable in the diagnosis of non-IgE-mediated (anaphylactoid) reactions such drug hypersensitivity and the detection of autoantibodies in certain forms of chronic urticaria. This review will not address immunologic features, characteristics and general pitfalls of flow-assisted analysis of in vitro-activated basophils as summarized elsewhere. After a recapitulation of the principles and some specific technical issues of flow-assisted analysis of in vitro-activated basophils, we principally focus on the current clinical and research applications of the basophil activation tests. Personal experience of both research groups is provided, where appropriate. Finally, a viewpoint on how the field might evolve in the following years is provided.