The complexity of T cell–mediated penicillin hypersensitivity reactions

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Penicillin refers to a group of beta-lactam antibiotics that are the first-line treatment for a range of infections. However, they also possess the ability to form novel antigens, or neoantigens, through haptenation of proteins and can stimulate a range of immune-mediated adverse reactions—collectively known as drug hypersensitivity reactions (DHRs). IgE-mediated reactions towards these neoantigens are well studied; however, IgE-independent reactions are less well understood. These reactions usually manifest in a delayed manner as different forms of cutaneous eruptions or liver injury consistent with priming of an immune response. Ex vivo studies have confirmed the infiltration of T cells into the site of inflammation, and the subsets of T cells involved appear dependent on the nature of the reaction. Here, we review the evidence that has led to our current understanding of these immune-mediated reactions, discussing the nature of the lesional T cells, the characterization of drug-responsive T cells isolated from patient blood, and the potential mechanisms by which penicillins enter the antigen processing and presentation pathway to stimulate these deleterious responses. Thus, we highlight the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying genetic and molecular basis of penicillin-induced DHRs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-167
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • beta-lactam
  • drug allergy
  • human leukocyte antigen
  • hypersensitivity
  • penicillin
  • T cell

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