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Subclinical immune responses to nickel in sensitized individuals-a dose-response study.

Contact Dermatitis 2024 April 6
BACKGROUND: Nickel is the leading cause of contact allergy in Europe, with 14.5% of the adult population being sensitized. Despite regulations limiting nickel release from consumer items, the incidence and prevalence of nickel allergy remain high.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the clinical and subclinical immune response to low-dose nickel exposure on nickel pre-exposed skin to assess the adequacy of current regulatory limits.

METHOD: Nickel-allergic and healthy controls were patch tested with nickel twice with a 3-4 weeks interval. The first exposure used the diagnostic concentration of 2000 μg/cm2 nickel sulphate, and the same skin areas were then re-exposed to 0.2, 0.5, 12.8 and 370 μg/cm2 nickel sulphate. After 48 h, the patch reactions were examined for clinical signs of eczema, and skin biopsies were collected. The transcriptomic immune profile was analysed with Nanostring nCounter and quantitative polymerase chain reaction.

RESULTS: Two nickel-allergic participants (15%) had clinical reactions to the regulatory limiting doses for nickel (0.2/0.5 μg/cm2 ) following re-exposure. There was immune activation in all skin areas following re-exposure to nickel, predominantly mediated by up-regulation of cytokines and chemokines. In all nickel re-exposed skin areas, 81 genes were up-regulated independent from the clinical response. In skin areas exposed to 0.2 μg/cm2 , 101 immune-related genes were differentially expressed, even when no clinical response was observed. Healthy controls showed up-regulation of three genes in response to nickel re-exposures without any clinical reactions.

CONCLUSION: Immune activation can be induced in skin with local memory to nickel upon challenge with nickel doses within the regulatory limits. Our findings suggest that the regulatory limits in the European nickel regulation may not provide sufficient protection for consumers against low-dose exposures.

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