The role of IgE recognition in allergic reactions to amoxicillin and clavulanic acid

Clin Exp Allergy. 2016 Feb;46(2):264-74. doi: 10.1111/cea.12689.


Betalactam (BL) antibiotics are the drugs most frequently involved in IgE-mediated reactions. The culprit BL varies according to consumption patterns, with amoxicillin (AX) more prevalent in Southern Europe and penicillin V in Scandinavian countries. Nowadays, the combination of AX and clavulanic acid (CLV) is the most highly consumed BL containing medicine worldwide. Both BLs, AX and CLV, can independently be involved in reactions, which poses a diagnostic challenge. In patients with immediate allergic reactions to AX, two patterns of responses have been described, those responding to benzylpenicillin (cross-reactors) and those selective to AX. In addition, selective reactions to CLV account for around 30% of allergic reactions to the combination AX-CLV. These patterns of IgE recognition could be related to differences in the haptenation process, in the immunological response, or in the BL involved in the first sensitization. In this regard, patients with selective responses to CLV are generally younger than those allergic to AX or benzylpenicillin. So far, no evidence of cross-reactivity between CLV and other BLs has been reported. This shows the importance of an accurate diagnosis of CLV allergy, as patients with selective reactions to CLV could take other BLs including AX. Diagnosis can be performed in vivo and in vitro, although no immunoassay currently exists. Research regarding the CLV antigenic determinants and protein conjugates is essential to improve diagnosis. BLs need to covalently bind to a carrier protein to be immunogenic. The antigenic determinant of AX is the amoxicilloyl amide, but CLV leads to unstable structures, many of which are unknown. Moreover, the nature of the BL-protein conjugates plays an important role in IgE recognition. This review aims to summarize current knowledge on the immunochemistry, diagnostic approaches as well as chemical and proteomic studies for both AX and CLV.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amoxicillin / immunology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / immunology*
  • Clavulanic Acid / immunology*
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Clavulanic Acid
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • Amoxicillin