PURPOSE OF REVIEW: IgE-mediated allergies, such as allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma, have become highly prevalent, today affecting up to 35% of the population in industrialized countries. Allergen immunotherapy (also called hyposensitization therapy, desensitization or allergen-specific immunotherapy), the administration of gradually increasing amounts of an allergen, either subcutaneously or via the sublingual or oral route is effective. However, only few allergy patients (<5%) choose immunotherapy, as treatment duration is over years and because allergen administrations are associated with local and in some cases even systemic allergic side effects due to allergen accidentally reaching the circulation. Therefore, ideally the allergen should be administered to a site that contains high numbers of potent antigen-presenting cells in order to enhance efficacy and shorten treatment duration, and ideally that site should also be nonvascularized in order to prevent both systemic distribution of the allergen and systemic allergic side effects. The epidermis, a nonvascularized multilayer epithelium that contains high numbers of potent antigen-presenting Langerhans cells, could therefore be an interesting administration route.
RECENT FINDINGS: We have recently reintroduced transcutaneous or epicutaneous allergen-specific immunotherapy (EPIT) as treatment option for IgE-mediated allergies. This method was found efficacious and safe. Few applications of allergens using skin patches with a treatment duration of a few weeks were sufficient to achieve lasting relief.
SUMMARY: This review gives an overview on the history, the rationale, and the mechanisms of transcutaneous/epicutaneous immunotherapy.