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Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1999 Sep;83(3):257-66.

Clinical usefulness of patch and challenge tests in the diagnosis of cell-mediated allergy to betalactams.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine and Allergology, Universit√† Cattolica S.Cuore, Rome, Italy.



Literature reports dealing with cell-mediated allergy to betalactams have appeared with increasing frequency in the last years.


To evaluate patients with such reactions and to identify cross-reactivities among betalactams in order to provide safe guidelines for their further clinical management.


Thirty consecutive subjects with cell-mediated allergy to betalactams (history of adverse reactions to these antibiotics; serum total IgE within the normal range; absence of serum specific IgE antibodies to penicillin G and V, amoxicillin, and ampicillin; negative skin tests with a wide pattern of betalactam preparations; and positive patch-test to at least one betalactam antigenic determinant) were investigated. The subjects admitted to the study were patch tested with a wide variety of betalactam preparations in order to identify alternative molecules tolerated by the patient. To better evaluate the cross-reactivity pattern, tolerance challenges with patch-negative betalactams were also performed in each subject.


Both specific IgE and skin tests were negative in all patients. The skin biopsies performed on the positive patch-tested area in four patients showed a clear T-lymphocyte, CD4+-type infiltrate, thus definitely proving the occurrence of a cell-mediated response. A total of 44 adverse reactions (mean: 1.47 episodes for each patient) were reported in history, with a mean interval of 15 hours after betalactam administration. The reported symptoms were mainly cutaneous (maculo-papular rash and urticaria) and the responsible drugs were chiefly aminopenicillins (86.4% of cases) and penicillin G (9.1%). We were able to identify three separate groups of patients on the basis of clinical history, patch-test, and tolerance challenge pattern: allergy to the side chain of aminopenicillins in 16 patients (53.3%); allergy to the thiazolidine ring in 3 patients (10.0%); undetermined specificity in the remainder 11 patients (36.7%). Cross-reactivity among different betalactam molecules (revealed by positive tolerance tests performed with patch-negative betalactams) was found in 4.8% of cases only (23.3% of all investigated patients). This fact demonstrates a very high (95.2%) predictive value of a negative patch-test in excluding the occurrence of a cross-reactivity. The mis-match between patch and tolerance tests was observed in 3 out of 178 cases only (1.7% of cases, 10.5% of patients) in groups A and B, and in as much as 12.2% of cases (45.5% of subjects) in group C (P < .05).


Delayed allergy to betalactams (mainly to aminopenicillins) may be exerted by a cell-mediated response. Patch tests and tolerance challenges are extremely useful and safe for diagnosis and further clinical treatment of these patients, helping to identify safe alternative betalactam molecules that could be successfully tolerated by the allergic subjects.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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