Loss of melanocytes in hypopigmented mycosis fungoides: a study of 18 patients




Hypopigmentation in hypopigmented mycosis fungoides (MF) is thought to result from the action of CD8+ cells on melanocytes. Here, we investigated the immunophenotype and melanocytic markers in hypopigmented MF lesions.


Specimens of hypopigmented lesions and normal skin from 18 patients with hypopigmented MF and specimens of non-hypopigmented lesions from 8 patients with classic/conventional MF were subjected to neoplastic immunophenotyping and melanocyte immunostaining with Melan-A, tyrosinase, stem cell factor receptor (CD117) and microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MiTF).


The CD8+ immunophenotype was more common in hypopigmented MF lesions (14/18) than in conventional MF lesions (1/8, p = 0.0033). There was a main effect of specimen type (hypopigmented MF lesion, hypopigmented MF normal skin, conventional MF lesion) on the number of melanocytes stained with Melan-A (median number/mm basal membrane, 1.97 vs. 4.77 vs. 5.42, respectively, p = 0.0046), tyrosinase (2.19 vs. 4.02 vs. 5.26, p = 0.0114), CD117 (4.29 vs. 7.81 vs. 5.45, p = 0.0064), and MiTF (2.75 vs. 4.43 vs. 4.98, p = 0.005).


These results confirm previous findings of fewer melanocytes and CD117-positive melanocytes in hypopigmented MF and showed reduced MiTF identification, which is crucial for the function and survival of melanocytes. Thus cytotoxic CD8+ cell action may determine CD117/MiTF dysfunction, causing hypopigmentation.