Chronic urticaria: Novel clinical and serological aspects

Riccardo Asero, A. Tedeschi, M. Lorini, R. Salimbeni, T. Zanoletti, A. Miadonna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recently, distinct studies have shown that: (a) chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) is autoimmune in 30-50% of cases; (b) in patients with CIU the autologous serum skin test is inhibited by heparin; and (c) basophil histamine release induced in vitro by CIU sera maybe complement-dependent. Objective: To carry out a comprehensive clinical and serological study on CIU based upon these observations. Methods: Three hundred and six adults with CIU underwent intradermal (ID) test with autologous serum; 57 of them with autologous heparinized plasma as well. Sera from 121 patients (plasmas from 17) were employed to induce in vitro histamine release from basophils of normal donors. The effects of heating (56 °C, 60 min), filtration through membrane, and preincubation with heparin were evaluated as well. Results: Autologous serum and plasma induced a weal and flare reaction in 205 out of 306 (205/306; 67%) and in 8/57 (14%) patients, respectively. Positive plasma skin tests were observed only in patients showing strongly positive serum skin tests. Plasma did not elicit any skin reaction in 3/3 patients with dermatographism who showed a positive intradermal test with saline. Sera from 20/121 (16.5%) patients induced significant histamine release from basophils of normal donors. 19/20 sera were from patients with a positive intradermal test; thus, basophil histamine release assay was positive in 19/87 (21.8%) patients with a positive serum skin test. Heating at 56 °C × 1 h markedly reduced the histamine-releasing activity of both serum and plasma from in vitro reactors. Ultrafiltered fractions > 100 kDa of both sera tested retained the histamine-releasing activity, whereas fractions <100 kDa were not able to induce any histamine release. Heparin dose-dependently inhibited histamine release induced by sera and plasma, and by basophil agonists such as anti-IgE, formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenilalanine, and interleukin (IL)-3. Conclusions: 67% of our patients with CIU showed a positive autologous serum skin test. Sera from about 20% of those positive on autologous serum skin test induced histamine release from normal basophils in vitro probably as a consequence of the presence of functional autoantibodies. The marked difference between in vivo and in vitro findings could reflect the existence of a mast cell-specific histamine-releasing factor which does not release histamine from basophils of healthy blood donors. However, it might be also the result of in vivo priming of patients' cutaneous mast cells or of heterogeneity of basophil donors. At least in some cases complement seems essential for histamine-releasing activity of serum from patients with CIU. Heparin inhibits histamine release from both basophils (in vitro) and mast cells (in vivo), probably acting directly at a cellular level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1110
Number of pages6
JournalClinical and Experimental Allergy
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Basophils
  • Heparin
  • Histamine release
  • Serum
  • Urticaria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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