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J Invest Dermatol. 2000 Oct;115(4):647-52.

T cells isolated from positive epicutaneous test reactions to amoxicillin and ceftriaxone are drug specific and cytotoxic.

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  • 1Clinic of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology/Allergology, Inselspital, Bern, Switzerland.


In order to investigate the function of T cells in cutaneous adverse drug reactions, skin-derived T cells were analyzed in two patients with a drug-induced exanthem. Skin biopsy specimens were obtained from positive epicutaneous test reactions to amoxicillin and ceftriaxone. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that the majority of the cell infiltrate in both biopsy specimens was composed of activated T cells, of which some expressed perforin. By limiting dilution 36 amoxicillin-specific and 10 ceftriaxone-specific T cell clones were raised. All of these T cell clones expressed CD4/T cell receptor alphabeta. Cytokine analysis after antigen stimulation of the seven best proliferating T cell clones (four specific for amoxicillin and three for ceftriaxone) revealed that these cells secrete high amounts of interleukin-5 and mostly lower or no amounts of tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-4, and interferon-gamma. A part of these CD4+ T cell clones were cytotoxic, i.e., two selected ceftriaxone-specific T cell clones killed target cells after antigen stimulation. The amoxicillin-specific T cell clones failed to show drug-specific cytotoxicity, but killed target cells in the presence of concanavalin A, indicating a principal ability to be cytolytic. In correlation with the in situ expression of perforin on T cells, the ceftriaxone-specific T cell clones also expressed perforin in vitro. In conclusion, a substantial part of the T cells in drug-induced epicutaneous test reactions are drug specific and are composed of a heterogeneous cell population. Drug-specific T cells producing interleukin-5 may contribute to eosinophilia, whereas cytotoxic CD4+ T cells may account for tissue damage. These data underline the role of T cells in delayed-type cutaneous adverse drug eruptions and drug-induced epicutaneous test reactions.

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