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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Jun;103(6):1005-11.

Specific IgE to cross-reactive carbohydrate determinants strongly affect the in vitro diagnosis of allergic diseases.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome; and the Allergy Unit, National Health Service, Rome.



Cross-reacting carbohydrate determinants (CCDs) are antigenic structures shared by allergenic components from taxonomically distant sources. The case history of a patient with a great discrepancy between skin test and specific IgE results led us to investigate the role of these determinants in his specific case and in an allergic population.


We sought to determine the role of CCDs in causing false-positive and clinically irrelevant results in in vitro tests.


The involvement of CCDs was studied by specific IgE inhibition by using glycoproteins with a known carbohydrate structure. Direct and inhibition assays were performed by commercially available systems, in-house ELISA, and the immunoblotting technique. The binding to the periodate-oxidated carbohydrate structure of glycoproteins and allergenic extracts was also evaluated. A comparative study between skin test and specific IgE responses to the antigens studied was carried out in 428 consecutive allergic subjects.


All the tests performed suggested that cross-reacting carbohydrate epitopes were the cause of false-positive specific IgE results in one of the commercial systems and the high reactivity in all the solid-phase in vitro tests. None of the cross-reacting carbohydrate allergens yielded a positive skin test response. Periodate treatment caused variable degrees of reduction of IgE binding to the different antigens studied, indicating that CCDs played a different role in each of them. About 41% of patients allergic to pollen had specific IgE for a glycoprotein, without a positive skin test response to the same molecule.


CCDs must be taken into account when evaluating the clinical relevance of positive results in in vitro specific IgE assays, at least in the diagnosis of patients with pollen allergy. Commercial systems should be carefully assessed for the ability to detect specific IgE for carbohydrate determinants to avoid false-positive or clinically irrelevant results.

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