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Arch Dermatol Res. 1993;285(1-2):13-9.

Hydroxyethylstarch deposits in human skin--a model for pruritus?

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  • 1Department of Dermatology II, University of Vienna, Austria.


Severe itching for unknown reasons has been reported after administration of hydroxyethylstarch (HES) in haemodilution therapy of humans. After HES treatment, vacuoles in cells of various organs in humans have been shown, predominantly affecting the mononuclear phagocyte system. These vacuoles present indirect evidence for phagocytosis of HES particles. Since phagocytosis is also known to occur in the skin, this organ might represent a target for HES deposition, resulting in subsequent release of mediators responsible for the observed itching. The aim of the present investigation was to study skin biopsies of patients, who had received HES and suffered subsequently from itch. Skin sections were investigated for morphological impairment by means of light and electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy using a polyclonal anti-HES antiserum. Storage of HES was demonstrated in the skin of all patients, mainly in dermal macrophages, endothelial cells of blood and lymph vessels, some perineural cells and endoneural macrophages of larger nerve fascicles, some keratinocytes and Langerhans cells. Treatment with antihistaminic agents proved ineffective in these patients; this fits with the observation that morphological signs of histamine release from mast cells were absent. These findings indicate that other mediators from HES-affected cells must be responsible for the development of the itching. Thus, investigation of HES storage may be a useful contribution to the elucidation of release of itch mediators and induction of pruritus.

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