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Study identifies tissue characteristics of stable vitiligo

Further MPM imaging of patients undergoing punch grafting treatment showed that metabolically altered keratinocytes persist in non-responders but normalize in treatment responders. Photo courtesy UCI School of Medicine

A new study has utilized multimodal analyses of skin affected by vitiligo in an attempt to provide some answers regarding why white patches tend to persist in people with stable vitiligo, an effect of vitiligo that has been poorly understood. The paper was published in JCI Insights.

Using non-invasive multiphoton microscopy (MPM) imaging and single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), researchers at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine found subpopulations of keratinocytes in stable vitiligo patients that may perpetuate inflammation and prevent repigmentation, leading to the white patches.

They say their discovery may lead to more targeted therapies for these patients, who often experience significant psychological distress from the condition.

When compared to non-lesional skin, the study showed some keratinocytes appear to be enriched in lesional vitiligo skin and shift their energy utilization toward oxidative phosphorylation, potentially driving vitiligo persistence through the secretion of CXCL9 (chemokine ligand 9) and CXCL10 (chemokine ligand 10). The authors note MPM imaging of patients undergoing punch graft treatment indicated keratinocytes that favour oxidative phosphorylation tend to persist in non-responders to punch graft therapy but normalize in responders.

“In this study, we couple advanced imaging with transcriptomics and bioinformatics to discover the cell-to-cell communication networks between keratinocytes, immune cells and melanocytes that drive inflammation and prevent repigmentation caused by vitiligo,” Anand K. Ganesan, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology and vice chair for dermatology research at UCI School of Medicine, said in a press release.

“This discovery will enable us to determine why white patches continue to persist in stable vitiligo disease, which could lead to new therapeutics to treat this disease.”


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