Drug Hypersensitivity Reactions Involving Skin

  • Oliver Hausmann
  • Benno Schnyder
  • Werner J. PichlerEmail author
Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series (HEP, volume 196)


Immune reactions to drugs can cause a variety of diseases involving the skin, liver, kidney, lungs, and other organs. Beside immediate, IgE-mediated reactions of varying degrees (urticaria to anaphylactic shock), many drug hypersensitivity reactions appear delayed, namely hours to days after starting drug treatment, showing a variety of clinical manifestations from solely skin involvement to fulminant systemic diseases which may be fatal. Immunohistochemical and functional studies of drug-specific T cells in patients with delayed reactions confirmed a predominant role for T cells in the onset and maintenance of immune-mediated delayed drug hypersensitivity reactions (type IV reactions). In these reactions, drug-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are stimulated by drugs through their T cell receptors (TCR). Drugs can stimulate T cells in two ways: they can act as haptens and bind covalently to larger protein structures (hapten-carrier model), inducing a specific immune response. In addition, they may accidentally bind in a labile, noncovalent way to a particular TCR of the whole TCR repertoire and possibly also major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-molecules – similar to their pharmacologic action. This seems to be sufficient to reactivate certain, probably in vivo preactivated T cells, if an additional interaction of the drug-stimulated TCR with MHC molecules occurs. The mechanism was named pharmacological interaction of a drug with (immune) receptor and thus termed the p-i concept. This new concept may explain the frequent skin symptoms in drug hypersensitivity to oral or parenteral drugs. Furthermore, the various clinical manifestations of T cell-mediated drug hypersensitivity may be explained by distinct T cell functions leading to different clinical phenotypes. These data allowed a subclassification of the delayed hypersensitivity reactions (type IV) into T cell reactions which, by releasing certain cytokines and chemokines, preferentially activate and recruit monocytes (type IVa), eosinophils (type IVb), or neutrophils (type IVd).


Drug hypersensitivity T cells p-i concept (pharmacological interaction of drugs with immune receptors) Mechanism Exanthema 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver Hausmann
  • Benno Schnyder
  • Werner J. Pichler
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Division of Allergology, Department of Rheumatology, Clinical Immunology and AllergologyInselspitalBernSwitzerland

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