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Summary

Background

Alteration in T-lymphocyte function and cytokines secreted by T-cell subsets has been proposed in the immunopathogenesis of alopecia areata (AA). The role of T-helper and regulatory T-cell cytokines in the pathogenesis of active AA has not been established.

Objectives

To assess the role of hallmark cytokines of T-helper cells (Th1, Th2 and Th17) and regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the pathogenesis of AA, and its clinical correlation.

Methods

Fifty-one patients with AA and 45 age- and sex-matched healthy control subjects were included in the study. Serum interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-γ, IL-10, IL-13, IL-17A and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1 were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in both groups. Correlation of serum cytokine levels with age, sex, disease subtype and duration, number of patches on the scalp, associated autoimmune disorders and atopy was studied.

Results

The serum cytokine levels of IL-2, IFN-γ, IL-13 and IL-17A were significantly increased, and serum TGF-β1 levels were significantly decreased (< 0·05) in patients with AA compared with controls. Serum IL-2 levels were significantly different among AA subgroups (< 0·05). IL-2 levels were positively correlated with the total disease duration and the number of patches on the scalp.

Conclusions

The increased levels of serum IL-2, IFN-γ, IL-13 and IL-17A suggested altered T-helper cell function, and reduced serum TGF-β1 levels suggested a defect in Treg function. Therefore, enhanced T-cell-mediated immunity and breakdown of immune tolerance due to deficiency in Tregs may facilitate the occurrence of AA.