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Keywords:

  • delayed hypersensitivity;
  • enzyme-linked immunospot assay;
  • interferon γ;
  • penicillin allergy;
  • T cell

Drug allergic reactions presenting as maculo-papular exanthema (MPE) are mediated by drug-specific T cells. In this study, the frequency of circulating specific T cells was analyzed by interferon-γ (IFN-γ) enzyme-linked immunospot assay in 22 patients with an allergic MPE to amoxicillin (amox). Amox-specific circulating T cells were detected in 20/22 patients with frequencies ranging from 1 : 8000 to 1 : 30 000 circulating leucocytes. No reactivity was observed in 46 control patients, including 15 patients with immunoglobulin E-mediated allergy to amoxicillin, 11 patients with a history of drug-induced MPE but tolerant to amoxicillin and 20 healthy individuals. Furthermore, amox-specific T cells were still detectable several years after the occurrence of the allergic reaction even after strict drug avoidance. Finally, analysis of drug-specific T cells in one patient allergic to ticarcillin (a penicillin antibiotic distinct from amox) revealed the presence of IFN-γ-producing T cells reactive to ticarcillin and several other betalactam antibiotics, suggesting that the IFN-γ ELISPOT assay is able to detect T cell cross-reactivity against chemically related drugs. These findings confirm that drug-induced MPE is associated with the presence of specific T cells in blood and further suggest that the IFN-γ ELISPOT is a sensitive assay which could improve the diagnosis of betalactam allergy.