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Lymphocyte surface markers and cytokines are suitable for detection and potency assessment of skin-sensitizing chemicals in an in vitro model of allergic contact dermatitis: the LCSA-ly


Allergic contact dermatitis is a widespread health disorder and occupational skin disease. Hence, screening for contact-sensitizing chemicals is highly relevant to toxicology, dermatology, and occupational medicine. The use of animal tests for this purpose is constrained by ethical considerations, need for high-throughput screening, and legislation (e.g., for cosmetics in the European Union). T cell activation is the final and most specific key event of the “adverse outcome pathway” for skin sensitization and therefore a promising target for the development of in vitro sensitization assays. We present a novel in vitro sensitization assay with a lymphocyte endpoint as an add-on to the loose-fit coculture-based sensitization assay (LCSA): the LCSA-ly. While the LCSA measures dendritic cell activation, the LCSA-ly offers the option for an additional lymphocyte endpoint which can be measured concurrently. We incorporated lymphocytes in our previously established coculture of primary human keratinocytes and monocyte-derived dendritic cells and tested nine substances: five sensitizers [2,4-dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB) 1.25–15 µmol/l, p-phenylenediamine (PPD) 15.6–125 µmol/l, 2-mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT) 50–1000 µmol/l, coumarin, and resorcinol (both: 250–1500 µmol/l)] and four non-sensitizers (monochlorobenzene, caprylic acid, glycerol, and salicylic acid (all: 125–1000 µmol/l)]. DNCB and MBT increased a subset of IL-23 receptor+/IFN-γ receptor 1 (CD119)+ lymphocytes. DNCB, PPD, and MBT enhanced a subunit of the IL-4 receptor (CD124) and a memory marker (CD44) on lymphocytes. Remarkably, DNCB, PPD, and MBT raised IL-4 concentrations in coculture supernatants while IFN-γ levels decreased, which might point to Th2 activation in vitro. Coumarin, resorcinol, and non-sensitizers did not alter any of the tested surface markers or cytokines. IL-17 was not affected by any of the substances. Relative strength of sensitizers according to lymphocyte markers was DNCB > PPD > MBT, which corresponds to earlier results from the LCSA without lymphocyte endpoint, the murine local lymph node assay, and human data. This study is the first to prove the suitability of lymphocyte surface markers for sensitization testing and potency assessment.

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Studies were supported by a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant no. 31P5924). We are also grateful for a grant from the Sonnenfeld Stiftung, Berlin, providing financial support for the FACS Calibur. Some experiments in this study were part of Janna Frombach’s master thesis.

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Correspondence to Maximilian Schreiner.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Frombach, J., Sonnenburg, A., Krapohl, BD. et al. Lymphocyte surface markers and cytokines are suitable for detection and potency assessment of skin-sensitizing chemicals in an in vitro model of allergic contact dermatitis: the LCSA-ly. Arch Toxicol 92, 1495–1505 (2018).

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  • In vitro sensitization assay
  • Lymphocytes
  • Coculture
  • Allergic contact dermatitis