Contribution of CD4(+ )and CD8(+) T-cells in contact hypersensitivity and allergic contact dermatitis

Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2005 May;1(1):75-86. doi: 10.1586/1744666X.1.1.75.


Allergic contact dermatitis, also referred to as contact hypersensitivity, is one the most frequent inflammatory skin diseases, and is characterized by redness, papule and vesicles, followed by scaling and dryness. Allergic contact dermatitis is elicited upon skin contact with nonprotein chemicals, haptens, and corresponds to a cutaneous delayed type hypersensitivity reaction, mediated by hapten-specific T-cells. During the sensitization phase, both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T-cell precursors are activated in the draining lymph nodes by presentation of haptenated peptides by skin dendritic cells. Subsequent hapten painting on a remote skin site induces the recruitment and activation of specific T-cells at the site of challenge. This leads to apoptosis of keratinocytes, recruitment of inflammatory cells and development of clinical symptoms. Experimental studies from the last 10 years have demonstrated that, in normal contact hypersensitivity responses to strong haptens, CD8(+) type 1 T-cells are effector cells of contact hypersensitivity through cytotoxicity and interferon-gamma production, while CD4(+) T-cells are endowed with downregulatory functions. The latter may correspond to the recently described CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T-cell population. However, in some instances, especially when there is a deficient CD8(+) T-cell pool, CD4(+) T-cells can be effector cells of contact hypersensitivity. Ongoing studies will have to confirm that the pathophysiology of human allergic contact dermatitis is similar to the mouse contact hypersensitivity and that the contact hypersensitivity response to common weak haptens, most frequently involved in human allergic contact dermatitis, is similar to that reported for strong haptens.