Possible Genetic Cause Of Eczema Discovered
December 23, 2012

Discovery Could Help Treat Sufferers Of Atopic Dermatitis

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The discovery of a potential genetic cause for a form of eczema most commonly found in infants could help lead to the development of new treatment options for the inflammatory skin disorder.

The condition, which is known as atopic dermatitis, can lead to long-term swelling, dry and itchy skin, and redness or inflammation. According to the US Library of Medicine, it is due to a hypersensitivity reaction in the skin, similar to an allergy. In fact, those who have the condition might test positive during an allergy test, even though it is not caused by an allergic reaction.

While the condition is most common in babies, millions of adults also suffer from atopic dermatitis. Furthermore, this form of eczema can sometimes cause asthma. That's what makes a new study, completed at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, Oregon and recently published in the journal PLoS One, seem so promising.

Working in laboratory conditions, pharmaceutical scientists at OSU were able to discover the skin condition, which can cause fluids to be lost through the skin or allow allergens to penetrate the body, can be caused by the lack of a protein known as Ctip2, the school announced on Friday. This protein, they said, helps regulate several other genetic or metabolic functions.

"They have identified two ways in which improper function of Ctip2 can lead to eczema," they added. In a recent publication, they found that Ctip2 controls lipid biosynthesis in the skin, the fats that are needed to help keep skin healthy and hydrated. In the new study, they discovered Ctip2 suppresses TSLP, a cytokine protein produced by skin cells that can trigger inflammation.

Usually, TSLP cannot be detected in human skin. However, the researchers revealed that laboratory animals which had been genetically modified so there would be no Ctip2 production in their skin were found to have inflammatory levels more than 1,000 times higher than normal.

"We´ve basically shown that inadequate Ctip2 is reducing the lipids in skin that it needs to stay healthy, protect itself and perform its function," Arup Indra, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy, explained. "At the same time this can allow unwanted formation of proteins that trigger inflammation. The skin´s ability to resist inflammation is going down just as the amount of inflammation is going up, and the underlying reason is that Ctip2 is not doing its job.

"Either or both of these problems can lead to eczema," Indra added. "Our skin is the largest organ in the human body and one of the most important. It´s our first barrier of defense, is in a constant battle against external insults, is influenced by both genetics and the environment, and has to be finely tuned to do many jobs. In eczema, this process begins to break down."