Delayed drug hypersensitivity reactions

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Oct 21;139(8):683-93. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-139-8-200310210-00012.


Immune reactions to small molecular compounds, such as drugs, can cause a variety of diseases involving the skin, liver, kidney, and lungs. In many drug hypersensitivity reactions, drug-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells recognize drugs through their alphabeta T-cell receptors in an MHC-dependent way. Drugs stimulate T cells if they act as haptens and bind covalently to peptides or if they have structural features that allow them to interact with certain T-cell receptors directly. Immunohistochemical and functional studies of drug-reactive T cells in patients with distinct forms of exanthema reveal that distinct T-cell functions lead to different clinical phenotypes. In maculopapular exanthema, perforin-positive and granzyme B-positive CD4+ T cells kill activated keratinocytes, while a large number of cytotoxic CD8+ T cells in the epidermis is associated with formation of vesicles and bullae. Drug-specific T cells also orchestrate inflammatory skin reactions through the release of various cytokines (for example, interleukin-5, interferon) and chemokines (such as interleukin-8). Activation of T cells with a particular function seems to lead to a specific clinical picture (for example, bullous or pustular exanthema). Taken together, these data allow delayed hypersensitivity reactions (type IV) to be further subclassified into T-cell reactions, which through the release of certain cytokines and chemokines preferentially activate and recruit monocytes (type IVa), eosinophils (type IVb), or neutrophils (type IVd). Moreover, cytotoxic functions by either CD4+ or CD8+ T cells (type IVc) seem to participate in all type IV reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross Reactions
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / classification
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / classification
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / immunology*
  • Immunity, Innate
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*