Early disease onset and increased risk of other autoimmune diseases in familial generalized vitiligo


Address correspondence to Richard A. Spritz,
e-mail: richard.spritz@uchsc.edu


Generalized vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder in which acquired white patches of skin and overlying hair result from autoimmune loss of melanocytes from involved areas. Although usually sporadic, family clustering of vitiligo may occur, in a non-Mendelian pattern typical of multifactorial, polygenic inheritance. Sporadic vitiligo is associated with autoimmune thyroid disease, pernicious anemia, Addison's disease, and lupus; these same disorders occur at increased frequency in patients’ first-degree relatives. Here, we studied 133 ‘multiplex’ generalized vitiligo families, with multiple affected family members. The age of onset of vitiligo is earlier in these ‘multiplex’ families than in patients with sporadic vitiligo. Affected members of the multiplex vitiligo families have elevated frequencies of autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, adult-onset insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, pernicious anemia, and Addison's disease. Probands’ unaffected siblings have elevated frequencies of most of these same autoimmune diseases, particularly if the proband had non-vitiligo autoimmune disease. Familial generalized vitiligo is thus characterized by earlier disease onset and a broader repertoire of associated autoimmune diseases than sporadic vitiligo. This mostly likely reflects a greater inherited genetic component of autoimmune susceptibility in these families. These findings have important implications for autoimmune disease surveillance in families in which multiple members are affected with vitiligo.