Penicillin minor determinants: History and relevance for current diagnosis

N. Franklin Adkinson, Louis M. Mendelson, Charlotte Ressler, John C. Keogh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the history of the penicillin minor determinants and evaluate their relevance for current diagnosis. Data Sources: Skin testing to detect immunoglobulin E (IgE) sensitivity to penicillins in patients with a history of penicillin allergy has been the subject of more than 55 years of published research involving tens of thousands of patients. Study Selections: Selection of data was based on its relevance to the objective of this article. Results: It was established early on that testing with the major penicilloyl determinant using the polyvalent penicilloyl-polylysine (PPL) is negative in a substantial portion (10% to 64%, including recent increases) of those at risk for immediate hypersensitivity reactions. A variety of minor penicillin determinants are clinically significant in that their use in skin testing is essential to detect all those at risk. In particular, a minor determinant mixture of benzylpenicillin, benzylpenicilloate, and benzylpenilloate, used in conjunction with PPL, has been shown in numerous studies to achieve an average negative predictive value (NPV) of 97.9% in history-positive patients. Benzylpenicillin alone, as the sole minor determinant, leaves many skin test–positive patients undiscovered. Use of amoxicillin as an additional minor determinant reagent appears to identify another 2% to 8% of skin test–positive patients in some populations. Conclusion: IgE skin testing, using both the major and appropriate minor determinants of penicillin, can identify, with a high degree of reliability (NPV ∼97%), penicillin allergy history–positive patients who can receive beta-lactam antibiotics without concern for serious acute allergy, including anaphylaxis. The few false-negative skin tests reported globally are largely confined to minor, self-limited cutaneous reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-544
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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