Increased levels of a class of proteins called interleukins (ILs) might be linked to the active stage of vitiligo, an autoimmune skin disease, new research suggests1. The finding may pave the way for new interleukin-targeted therapy for vitiligo.

During vitiligo, the cells producing melanin die. Melanin is the pigment that imparts colour to skin, hair and eyes. Vitiligo is thus characterised by growing white patches of irregular shapes on the skin. There is no cure for the disease. Recent studies have suggested that disrupted immune response could aggravate vitiligo. However, no studies had pinned down the exact biochemical anomalies that underlie the disorder.

The researchers selected 60 active and 20 stable vitiligo patients, 25 ultraviolet B-treated vitiligo patients and 70 healthy individuals. During the study, active vitiligo patients were developing new white patches on skin whereas stable ones had no new patches. They measured the serum IL levels in patients and healthy individuals.

Significant difference was found in the serum IL concentrations among patients as opposed to healthy individuals. The active patients had significantly increased serum levels of IL compared with stable patients.

The researchers say that increased serum concentrations of ILs unleash toxic effects on melanocytes, the melanin-producing cells in the human skin. This results in death of melanocytes, leading to vitiligo. They say that interleukin-targeted therapeutics can be combined with current treatments to alleviate vitiligo.