Dysregulation of melanocyte function by Th17-related cytokines: significance of Th17 cell infiltration in autoimmune vitiligo vulgaris

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The aim of this study was to determine whether CD4+IL-17A+Th17 cells infiltrate vitiligo skin and to investigate whether the proinflammatory cytokines related to Th17 cell influence melanocyte enzymatic activity and cell fate. An immunohistochemical analysis showed Th17 cell infiltration in 21 of 23 vitiligo skin samples in addition to CD8+ cells on the reticular dermis. An in vitro analysis showed that the expression of MITF and downstream genes was downregulated in melanocytes by treatment with interleukin (IL)-17A, IL-1β, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. Treatment with these cytokines also induced morphological shrinking in melanocytes, resulting in decreased melanin production. In terms of local cytokine network in the skin, IL-17A dramatically induced IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α production in skin-resident cells such as keratinocytes and fibroblasts. Our results provide evidence of the influence of a complex Th17 cell-related cytokine environment in local depigmentation in addition to CD8+ cell-mediated melanocyte destruction in autoimmune vitiligo.

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