According to a team from Inserm, mites could be one of the triggering factors for vitiligo, this autoimmune disease which causes white spots to appear on the skin. An important discovery that opens the way to a new treatment.
Vitiligo, a still mysterious autoimmune disease.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes depigmentation of the skin, revealing white spots. Considered benign, it can however have psychological repercussions, which are significant for those affected. 0.5 to 1% of the world population.
These visible traces are due to the disappearance of melanocytes, the cells of the epidermis which produce melanin, the main pigment which colors the skin and can occur at any time of life, at any age, whatever regardless of skin color.
However, the cause of this disease still remains unclear. In certain cases, violent psychological or physiological stress (pregnancy, surgery, infection, etc.) precedes the onset of the disease. The role of several environmental factors is also suspected.
A link established between mites and vitiligo
It is on this environmental role, and in particular on the relationship between mites and vitiligo, that a team of researchers from the Mediterranean Center for Molecular Medicine in Nice recently worked. Why mites specifically? Méri Tulic, Inserm researcher explains it:
“These microscopic organisms can trigger allergies, and this led us to suspect that they might have a link to the immune system abnormalities seen in vitiligo. In addition, mites produce a large number of proteases, proteins that break down other proteins. However, the detachment of melanocytes from patients’ skin involves the destruction of E-cadherins, proteins which allow cells to adhere to each other.
To test their hypothesis, the scientists then took epidermis samples from patients affected by vitiligo, and from volunteers who did not have this disease. These samples were exposed to mites. According to their analyses, the mite protease, called Der p1, destroys E-cadherins in the epidermis, causing the detachment of melanocytes. “If this phenomenon was observed in all the samples, it was approximately one hundred times more significant in those taken from patients with vitiligo than with samples from non-diseased skin. explains the researcher in a press release.
“It remains to be seen whether patients allergic to dust mites could constitute a subgroup of people particularly vulnerable to vitiligo, more at risk of developing this disease and in a more severe form.” Further studies are planned to confirm this new hypothesis.
Towards a cream capable of stopping the disease?
Knowing the cause (or a cause) of vitiligo is important to advance our knowledge of the disease and better approach it. In this specific case, the discovery could also make it possible to consider a new treatment widely awaited by those affected.
The research team worked on developing a cream, based on their knowledge, to fight vitiligo. A product based on ceramides (lipids naturally present in the skin) showed encouraging results: when the cream was applied to skin samples exposed to mites, it reduced their harmful effects. Also noted was a reduction in inflammation and loss of melanocytes.
“The effect is quite significant and associated with a consolidation of the skin barrier,” reports Méri Tulic. According to the scientist, this treatment could well be used by people with vitiligo to limit the progression of the disease or even avoid relapses.