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J Exp Med. 1998 Sep 21;188(6):1203-8.

High frequency of skin-homing melanocyte-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in autoimmune vitiligo.

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Institute of Molecular Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition characterized by loss of epidermal melanocytes. Using tetrameric complexes of human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I to identify antigen-specific T cells ex vivo, we observed high frequencies of circulating MelanA-specific, A*0201-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocytes (A2-MelanA tetramer+ CTLs) in seven of nine HLA-A*0201-positive individuals with vitiligo. Isolated A2-MelanA tetramer+ CTLs were able to lyse A*0201-matched melanoma cells in vitro and their frequency ex vivo correlated with extent of disease. In contrast, no A2-MelanA tetramer+ CTL could be identified ex vivo in all four A*0201-negative vitiligo patients or five of six A*0201-positive asymptomatic controls. Finally, we observed that the A2-MelanA tetramer+ CTLs isolated from vitiligo patients expressed high levels of the skin homing receptor, cutaneous lymphocyte-associated antigen, which was absent from the CTLs seen in the single A*0201-positive normal control. These data are consistent with a role of skin-homing autoreactive melanocyte-specific CTLs in causing the destruction of melanocytes seen in autoimmune vitiligo. Lack of homing receptors on the surface of autoreactive CTLs could be a mechanism to control peripheral tolerance in vivo.

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