Background: In several clinical trials the topical application of pimecrolimus was shown to be effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis (AD). By targeting calcineurin-dependent signaling pathways, pimecrolimus controls cytokine gene expression. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of pimecrolimus on the inflammatory infiltrate and cytokine expression pattern in AD upon topical therapy.
Methods: From 10 patients with acute AD, skin biopsies as well as immunophenotype and cytokine production of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were examined before and 3 weeks after therapy.
Results: The clinical improvement was associated with a marked regression of histopathological features. In particular, the density of the inflammatory infiltrate mostly containing lymphocytes and eosinophils declined. By double immunofluorescent staining, a reduced expression of the T helper (Th) 2 cytokines interleukin (IL)-5, IL-10, and IL-13 in both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells was demonstrated after therapy. Pimecrolimus therapy was also associated with a reduced expression of the Th1 cytokine interferon (IFN)-γ. Interestingly, the numbers of epidermal CD1a+ dendritic cells increased following treatment. In the peripheral blood, a decrease of lymphocytes and eosinophils was noticed, but the distribution of lymphocyte subpopulations and their capacity of cytokine production did not change.
Conclusions: Topical pimecrolimus exhibits anti-inflammatory effects in AD by reducing the inflammatory cell infiltrate and cytokine expression in the dermis.