Pathogenesis of solar urticaria: Classic perspectives and emerging concepts

Sheila Mary McSweeney, Robert Sarkany, Hiva Fassihi, Christos Tziotzios, John Alexander McGrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Solar urticaria is a rare, immunologically mediated photodermatosis in which activation of cutaneous mast cells is triggered by specific wavelengths of solar electromagnetic radiation. This manifests clinically as the rapid development of cutaneous itch, erythema and wheal formation after several minutes of sun exposure. Disease mechanisms in solar urticaria remain incompletely elucidated and there have been few recent investigations of its pathobiology. Historic passive transfer experiments performed during the twentieth century provide support for a ‘photoallergy’ model of disease pathogenesis, wherein molecular alteration of a putative chromophore by solar electromagnetic radiation produces mast cell activation via an IgE-dependent mechanism. However, this model does not account for several observations made during passive transfer experiments nor does it explain a range of subsequent clinical and photobiological observations made in solar urticaria patients. Furthermore, increased understanding of the molecular dynamics underpinning cutaneous mast cell responses highlights the need to reformulate our understanding of solar urticaria pathogenesis in the context of this contemporary scientific landscape. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of solar urticaria pathogenesis and, by incorporating recent scientific and clinical observations, develop new hypotheses to drive future investigation into this intriguing disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)586-593
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Dermatology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Apr

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology


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