Poison oak, ivy, and sumac dermatitis is a T-cell-mediated reaction against urushiol, the oil found in the leaf of the plants. This hapten is extremely lipophilic and concentrates in cell membranes. A blastogenesis assay employing peripheral blood lymphocytes obtained from humans sensitized to urushiol is described. The reactivity appears 1--3 wk after exposure and persists from 6 wk to 2 mon. The dose-response range is narrow, with inhibition occurring at higher antigen concentrations. Urushiol introduced into the in vitro culture on autologous lymphocytes, erythrocytes and heterologous erythrocytes produces equal results as measured by the optimal urushiol dose, the intensity of reaction, and the frequency of positive reactors. This suggests that the urushiol is passed from introducer to some other presenter cell. Although the blastogenically reactive cell is a T cell, there is also a requirement for an accessory cell, found in the non-T-cell population, for reactivity. Evidence is presented that this cell is a macrophage.
V S Byers, W L Epstein, N Castagnoli, H Baer