Anti-desmoglein 1 antibodies in Tunisian healthy subjects: arguments for the role of environmental factors in the occurrence of Tunisian pemphigus foliaceus

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Pemphigus foliaceus is an autoimmune blistering skin disease mediated by autoantibodies directed against desmoglein 1 and occurs as a sporadic form throughout the world, or as an endemic form called fogo selvagem in Brazil. Healthy subjects living in Brazilian endemic areas produce antidesmoglein 1 antibodies, suggesting the role of environmental factors in the initiation of the autoimmune response. Tunisia was described recently as an endemic area where the disease is characterized by its high rate among young people, especially women. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using recombinant desmoglein 1 as antigen was used to detect antibodies against desmoglein 1 and calibrated with sera from 67 French healthy blood donors, 20 French pemphigus foliaceus patients and patients with other bullous skin diseases. When sera from 179 healthy Tunisian blood donors were tested, 31 (17%) were found positive. The desmoglein 1 binding activity of these 31 sera was confirmed in 10 cases by indirect immunofluorescence analysis and/or immunoblotting using human epidermal extract. Subclass analysis of antidesmoglein 1 antibodies showed that they were almost exclusively of the IgG2 subclass in positive normal sera and of IgG4 subclass in patients with PF. Thus, antibodies against desmoglein 1 are prevalent in normal subjects living in Tunisia which, along with their IgG2 isotype, suggests the role of the environment in the pathogenesis of this endemic type of pemphigus foliaceus and the need for additional factors to switch from a subclinical to a clinical form of the disease.

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