• Autoimmunity;
  • Melanocyte;
  • Survey

Generalized vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder characterized by acquired white patches of skin and overlying hair, the result of loss of melanocytes from involved areas. The most common disorder of pigmentation, vitiligo occurs with a frequency of 0.1–2.0% in various populations. Family clustering of cases is not uncommon, in a non-Mendelian pattern suggestive of multifactorial, polygenic inheritance. We surveyed 2624 vitiligo probands from North America and the UK regarding clinical characteristics, familial involvement, and association with other autoimmune disorders, the largest such survey ever performed. More than 83% of probands were Caucasians, and the frequency of vitiligo appeared approximately equal in males and females. The frequency of vitiligo in probands' siblings was 6.1%, about 18 times the population frequency, suggesting a major genetic component in disease pathogenesis. Nevertheless, the concordance of vitiligo in monozygotic twins was only 23%, indicating that a non-genetic component also plays an important role. Probands with earlier disease onset tended to have more relatives affected with vitiligo, suggesting a greater genetic component in early onset families. The frequencies of six autoimmune disorders were significantly elevated in vitiligo probands and their first-degree relatives: vitiligo itself, autoimmune thyroid disease (particularly hypothyroidism), pernicious anaemia, Addison's disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and probably inflammatory bowel disease. These associations indicate that vitiligo shares common genetic aetiologic links with these other autoimmune disorders. These results suggest that genomic analysis of families with generalized vitiligo and this specific constellation of associated autoimmune disorders will be important to identify the mechanisms of genetic susceptibility to autoimmunity.