Roles for the High Affinity IgE Receptor, FcεRI, of Human Basophils in the Pathogenesis and Therapy of Allergic Asthma: Disease Promotion, Protection or Both?

Lama A. Youssef1, Mark Schuyler2, Bridget S. Wilson3, Janet M. Oliver*, 3
1 Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria
2 Departments of Internal Medicine
3 Departments of Internal Medicine University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, NM, USA

© 2010 Youssef et al;

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria; Tel: 0963-933826764; Fax: 0963-112120351; E-mail:


The role of basophils, the rarest of blood granulocytes, in the pathophysiology of allergic asthma is still incompletely understood. Indirect evidence generated over many decades is consistent with a role for basophils in disease promotion. Recent improvements in procedures to purify and analyze very small numbers of human cells have generally supported this view, but have also revealed new complexities.

This chapter focuses on our analyses of FcεR1 function in basophils in the context of understanding and treating human allergic asthma. In long-term studies, we demonstrated that asthmatic subjects have higher circulating numbers of basophils than non-atopic non-asthmatic subjects and that their basophils show higher rates of both basal and anti-IgE or antigen- stimulated histamine release. These results hint at a direct role for basophils in promoting asthma. Supporting this interpretation, the non-releaser phenotype that we linked to the excessive proteolysis of Syk via the ubiquitin/proteasomal pathway is less common in basophils from asthmatic than non-asthmatic donors. The discovery of a basophil-specific pathway regulating Syk levels presents a clear opportunity for therapy. Another route to therapy was revealed by evidence that basophil FcεRI signaling can be downregulated by co-crosslinking the ITAM-containing IgE receptor, FcεRI, to the ITIM-containing IgG receptor, FcεRIIB. Based on this discovery, hybrid co-crosslinking fusion proteins are being engineered as potential therapies targeting basophils. A third distinguishing property of human basophils is their high dependence on IgE binding to stabilize membrane FcεRI. The circulating IgE scavenging mAb, Omalizumab, reduces FcεRI expression in basophils from asthmatics by over 95% and produces a substantial impairment of IL-4, IL-8 and IL-13 production in response to the crosslinking of residual cell surface IgE-Fc..RI. A search for small molecule inhibitors that similarly impair high affinity IgE binding to basophils may yield reagents that mimic Omalizumab's therapeutic benefits without the potential for immune side effects.

Although studies on allergen and Fc..RI-mediated basophil activation all point to a role in promoting disease, a case can also be made for an alternative or additional role of basophil Fc..RI in protection against allergic asthma. Human basophils have high affinities for IgE, they upregulate receptor levels over a >100-fold range as circulating IgE levels increase and they have short half-lives in the circulation. Thus, when allergen is absent, basophil FcεRI could serve as scavengers of serum IgE and therefore protectors against mast cell IgE-mediated inflammatory responses. Further studies are clearly needed to determine if FcεR-expressing basophils play pathogenic or protective roles - or both - in human allergic asthma and other IgE-mediated inflammatory disorders.

Keywords: Allergic asthma, basophils, FcεRI, IgE, pathogenesis, therapy.