The basophil activation test by flow cytometry: recent developments in clinical studies, standardization and emerging perspectives

Clin Mol Allergy. 2005 Jun 30;3:9. doi: 10.1186/1476-7961-3-9.


The diagnosis of immediate allergy is mainly based upon an evocative clinical history, positive skin tests (gold standard) and, if available, detection of specific IgE. In some complicated cases, functional in vitro tests are necessary. The general concept of those tests is to mimic in vitro the contact between allergens and circulating basophils. The first approach to basophil functional responses was the histamine release test but this has remained controversial due to insufficient sensitivity and specificity. During recent years an increasing number of studies have demonstrated that flow cytometry is a reliable tool for monitoring basophil activation upon allergen challenge by detecting surface expression of degranulation/activation markers (CD63 or CD203c). This article reviews the recent improvements to the basophil activation test made possible by flow cytometry, focusing on the use of anti-CRTH2/DP2 antibodies for basophil recognition. On the basis of a new triple staining protocol, the basophil activation test has become a standardized tool for in vitro diagnosis of immediate allergy. It is also suitable for pharmacological studies on non-purified human basophils. Multicenter studies are now required for its clinical assessment in large patient populations and to define the cut-off values for clinical decision-making.