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Clin Exp Allergy. 2000 Jun;30(6):847-55.

Infiltration of cytotoxic T cells in drug-induced cutaneous eruptions.

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  • 1Clinic for Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology/Allergology, Department of Dermatology, University of Bern, 3010 Bern, Switzerland.



Previous in vitro data indicate that perforin containing drug-specific cytotoxic T cells are involved in cutaneous drug reactions.


The aim of this study was to investigate the in situ expression of perforin and granzyme B together with the nature of the inflammatory infiltrate in acute drug-induced exanthem. Furthermore, expression of interleukin (IL)-12 and interferon (IFN)-gamma, which are known to stimulate cytotoxic T cells, was investigated.


Skin biopsy specimens were obtained from 10 patients with a generalized maculopapular exanthem and from nine controls with normal skin. Expression of CD3, CD4, CD8, CD56, CD1a, CD68, CD25, HLA-DR, CD54, perforin, granzyme B, IL-12 and IFNgamma was analysed using immunohistochemistry.


In contrast to the controls, the skin of patients with an exanthem was mainly infiltrated by T cells (CD4 > CD8) and showed a marked enhancement of perforin and granzyme B immunostaining. Double immunostaining revealed that perforin and granzyme B were expressed in both CD4+ and CD8+ cells, which were partly located at the dermoepidermal junction and in the epidermis. In addition, strong immunreactivity for IL-12 and IFNgamma was observed in the mononuclear cells infiltrate, indicating that these cytokines may be important in activation of these cytotoxic T cells.


The increased numbers of perforin and granzyme B containing T cells infiltrating the dermoepidermal junction may contribute to the damage of epidermal cells, which is frequently observed as a typical feature of interface dermatitis in drug-induced exanthem. Our data provide further evidence that cytotoxic T cells play an essential role in cutaneous drug reactions.

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