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Toxicol Sci. 2011 Mar;120 Suppl 1:S238-68. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq346. Epub 2010 Nov 22.

Chemical allergy: translating biology into hazard characterization.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.


The induction by chemicals of allergic sensitization and allergic disease is an important and challenging branch of toxicology. Skin sensitization resulting in allergic contact dermatitis represents the most common manifestation of immunotoxicity in humans, and many hundreds of chemicals have been implicated as skin sensitizers. There are far fewer chemicals that have been shown to cause sensitization of the respiratory tract and asthma, but the issue is no less important because hazard identification remains a significant challenge, and occupational asthma can be fatal. In all areas of chemical allergy, there have been, and remain still, intriguing challenges where progress has required a close and productive alignment between immunology, toxicology, and clinical medicine. What the authors have sought to do here is to exemplify, within the framework of chemical allergy, how an investment in fundamental research and an improved understanding of relevant biological and biochemical mechanisms can pay important dividends in driving new innovations in hazard identification, hazard characterization, and risk assessment. Here we will consider in turn three specific areas of research in chemical allergy: (1) the role of epidermal Langerhans cells in the development of skin sensitization, (2) T lymphocytes and skin sensitization, and (3) sensitization of the respiratory tract. In each area, the aim is to identify what has been achieved and how that progress has impacted on the development of new approaches to toxicological evaluation. Success has been patchy, and there is still much to be achieved, but the journey has been fascinating and there have been some very important developments. The conclusion drawn is that continued investment in research, if coupled with an appetite for translating the fruits of that research into imaginative new tools for toxicology, should continue to better equip us for tackling the important challenges that remain to be addressed.

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