Background: Drug-reactive T cells are involved in most drug-induced hypersensitivity reactions. The frequency of such cells in peripheral blood of patients with drug allergy after remission is unclear.
Objective: We determined the frequency of drug-reactive T cells in the peripheral blood of patients 4 months to 12 years after severe delayed-type drug hypersensitivity reactions, and whether the frequency of these cell differs from the frequency of tetanus toxoid-reactive T cells.
Methods: We analyzed 5 patients with delayed-type drug hypersensitivity reactions, applying 2 methods: quantification of cytokine-secreting T cells by enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot), and fluorescent dye 5,6-carboxylfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester (CFSE) intensity distribution analysis of drug-reactive T cells.
Results: Frequencies found were between 0.02% and 0.4% of CD4(+) T cells reacting to the respective drugs measured by CFSE analysis, and between 0.01% and 0.08% of T cells as determined by ELISpot. Reactivity was seen neither to drugs to which the patients were not sensitized nor in healthy individuals after stimulation with any of the drugs used.
Conclusion: About 1:250 to 1:10,000 of T cells of patients with drug allergy are reactive to the relevant drugs. This frequency of drug-reactive T cells is higher than the frequency of T cells able to recognize recall antigens like tetanus toxoid in the same subjects. A substantial frequency could be observed as long as 12 years later in 1 patient even after strict drug avoidance. Patients with severe delayed drug hypersensitivity reactions are therefore potentially prone to react again to the incriminated drug even years after strict drug avoidance.