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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997 May;99(5):683-92.

Dermal eosinophils in atopic dermatitis undergo cytolytic degeneration.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.



Immunofluorescent staining for eosinophil granule proteins in lesional skin of patients with atopic dermatitis shows extensive extracellular deposition throughout the upper dermis with relatively few intact eosinophils.


This study was carried out to determine whether eosinophil granule protein deposition in atopic dermatitis occurs by classical exocytosis, by piecemeal degranulation, or as a result of cytolysis.


Skin biopsy specimens from 10 patients with atopic dermatitis were examined by electron microscopy.


The biopsy specimens showed varying degrees of dermal eosinophil granule major basic protein deposition by indirect immunofluorescence. Specimens from seven patients showed striking alterations of eosinophils by electron microscopy including intact eosinophils with granule alterations (reversal of core staining and/or core lucency) and with uropod processes. Biopsy specimens from six patients showed evidence of eosinophil degeneration with disruption of nuclear and/or plasma membranes. In four patients' specimens, membrane-bound eosinophil granules were present near degenerating eosinophils or were present in the absence of recognizable eosinophils. Evidence of classical exocytotic degranulation was not observed. Two of the specimens were also examined by immunoelectron microscopy for major basic protein localization. In these, major basic protein appeared to be lost from the granule core and distributed in the eosinophil cytoplasm as granules disintegrated and the cell disrupted.


These findings support the hypothesis that eosinophils undergo cytolysis with release of granule contents and membrane-bound granules; this is likely the usual mechanism of eosinophil granule protein release in atopic dermatitis.

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