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Eur J Immunol. 1997 Jun;27(6):1303-7.

Penicilloyl peptides are recognized as T cell antigenic determinants in penicillin allergy.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Immunbiologie, Freiburg, Germany.


Although hapten immune responses have been intensively studied in the mouse, very little is known about hapten determinants involved in human allergic reactions. Penicillins, as chemically reactive compounds of low molecular weight, constitute typical examples of hapten allergens for humans. Penicillins become immunogenic only after covalent binding to carrier proteins and in this form frequently induced IgE-mediated allergic reactions in patients subjected to antibiotic treatment. However, our previous data strongly indicated that penicillins also form part of the epitopes contacting the antigen receptors of beta lactam-specific T cells in allergic individuals. We have therefore investigated the molecular constraints involved in the T cell immune response to penicillin G (Pen G). Designer peptides containing a DRB1*0401-binding motif and covalently modified with Pen G via a lysine epsilon-amino group were found to induce proliferation of Pen G-specific T cell clones. A precise positioning of the hapten molecule on the peptide backbone was required for optimal T cell recognition. Furthermore, we extended these observations from our designer peptides to show that a peptide sequence derived from a natural DRB1*1101-binding peptide modified in vitro with Pen G, also acquired antigenic properties. Our data for the first time provide insight into the manner in which allergenic haptens are recognized by human T cells involved in allergic reactions to drugs and suggest possible mechanisms leading to the onset of these adverse immune responses.

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