Interaction of Small Molecules with Specific Immune Receptors: The p-i Concept and its Consequences

ISSN: 1875-631X (Online)
ISSN: 1573-3955 (Print)

Volume 11, 2 Issues, 2015

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Current Immunology Reviews

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Cecil Czerkinsky
Institut de Pharmacologie Moleculaire et Cellulaire
660 Route des Lucioles
Valbonne, 06560

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Interaction of Small Molecules with Specific Immune Receptors: The p-i Concept and its Consequences

Current Immunology Reviews, 10(1): 7-18.

Author(s): Werner J. Pichler and Stephen Watkins.

Affiliation: ADR-AC GmbH, Holligenstr. 91, 3008 Bern, Switzerland.


Drugs may stimulate the immune system by forming stable new antigenic complexes consisting of the drug or drug metabolite which is covalently bound to a protein or peptide (hapten-carrier complex). Both, B- and T-cell immunity may arise, the latter directed to hapten modified peptides presented by HLA molecules. Beside this immunological stimulation, drugs can also stimulate the immune system through binding by non-covalent bonds to proteins like immune receptors. This so-called “pharmacological interaction with immune receptors” concept (“p-i concept”) may occur with HLA or TCR molecules themselves (p-i HLA or p-i TCR), and not the immunogenic peptide. It is a type of “off-target” activity of the drug on immune receptors, but more complex as various cell types, cell interactions and functionally different T cells are involved. In this review the conditions which lead to activation of T cells by p-i are discussed: important factors for a functional consequence of drug binding is the location of binding (p-i HLA or p-i TCR); the exact site within these immune receptors; the affinity of binding and the finding that p-i HLA can stimulate the immune system like an allo-allele. The p-i concept is able to solve some puzzles of drug hypersensitivity reactions and are a basis to better treat and potentially avoid drug hypersensitivity reactions. Moreover, the p-i concept shows that in contrast to previous beliefs small molecules do interact with immune receptors with functional consequence. But these interactions are not based on “immune recognition”, are at odds with some immunological concepts, but may nevertheless open new possibilities to understand and even treat immune reactions.


Alloreactivity, hapten, p-i concept, p-i HLA, p-i TCR.

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Article Details

Volume: 10
Issue Number: 1
First Page: 7
Last Page: 18
Page Count: 12
DOI: 10.2174/1573395510666140407212357

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