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J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2004 Jan;9(1):68-72.

Autoimmune aspects of depigmentation in vitiligo.

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Department of Pathology/Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois, USA.


Autoimmune depigmentation of the skin, vitiligo, afflicts a considerable number of people, yet no effective therapeutic modalities have been developed to treat it. In part, this can be attributed to the obscure etiology of the disease, which has begun to reveal itself only recently. It is known that pigment is lost as a function of reduced melanocyte numbers in the epidermis, and that depigmentation is accompanied by T cell influx to the skin in the vast majority of patients. Characterizing such infiltrating T cells as type 1 proinflammatory cytokine-secreting cells reactive with melanocyte-specific antigen is a major step toward effective therapy. Melanoma research has shown that differentiation antigens, also expressed by normal melanocytes, can be immunogenic when expressed in the melanosomal compartment of the cell. Similar reactivity to melanosomal antigens is apparent for T cells infiltrating vitiligo skin. It may eventually be possible to treat patients with decoy antigens that anergize such Tcells, or to prevent recruitment of the T cells to the skin altogether. In this respect, it is important that T cells are recruited to the skin as a function of dendritic cell activation and that dendritic cells are likely activated at sites of epidermal trauma as a consequence of stress proteins that spill over into the microenvironment. Stress proteins chaperoning antigens representative of the cells from which they were derived are then processed by dendritic cells and contribute to their activation. Activated dendritic cells not only migrate to draining lymph nodes to recruit T cells but may execute cytotoxic effector functions as well. The contribution of the effector functions to actual depigmentation of the skin remains to be investigated.

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