Expression of Elafin in Dermatitis Herpetiformis

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Elafin is a serine protease inhibitor that has various epithelial cell regulatory and immunomodulatory effects including inactivation of neutrophil elastases. This later role originated the interest of elafin in certain neutrophil-rich dermatoses. Interestingly, it has been speculated that elafin has a protective role by slowing the deamidation process of gliadin in celiac disease (CD), despite the typical absence of neutrophils in intestinal histologic samplings. Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is a chronic recurrent vesicular dermatitis associated with gluten hypersensitivity and also characterized by a neutrophilic infiltrate and granular immunoglobulin A deposits in papillary dermis.

Materials and Methods:

We selected 31 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded skin specimens of DH that demonstrated typical immunopathologic findings and probed them with rabbit polyclonal immunoglobulinG antielafin antibodies through standard immunohistochemistry analysis. Negative controls consisted of normal skin from elbow and knee surgical re-excisions specimen lacking residual tumor. Positive controls included skin biopsies of active plaque psoriasis, Sweet syndrome, and pyoderma gangrenosum.


Similar to what has been previously reported in intestinal sampling of patients with active CD, abnormal expression of elafin was noted in virtually all probed skin biopsies of DH patients with active cutaneous disease.


Under normal circumstances, keratinocytes overexpress elafin to downregulate a neutrophil mediated inflammatory response. The deficient expression of elafin in the aforementioned probed DH specimens correlates with previous similar elafin underexpression in intestinal samples of active CD. These histological findings suggest that these 2 gluten mediated disorders carry an abnormal elafin underexpression during disease activity.

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