Functional defects of peripheral regulatory T lymphocytes in patients with progressive vitiligo


CORRESPONDENCE M. Ben Ahmed, e-mail:


Auto-reactive cytotoxic T lymphocytes play a key role in the progressive loss or destruction of melanocytes in vitiligo but the mechanism underlying the loss of self-tolerance is unknown. A deregulation of regulatory T-cell biology has recently been suggested. The analysis of the suppressive effects of peripheral T regulatory cells in vitiligo patients revealed a functional defect in seven of 15 cases. This defect was strongly correlated with disease activity. The evaluation of the percentage of peripheral regulatory T lymphocytes did not reveal any intrinsic quantitative defect. Yet, a decrease in the percentage of such cells was noted in patients with progressive forms, suggesting a recruitment of regulatory T cells from the peripheral blood to the site of injury. This was further corroborated by the significant increase of Forkhead box P3 expression in the vitiliginous skin of patients. Our data support the involvement of a functional defect of peripheral regulatory T cells in the pathogenesis of vitiligo and open new possibilities to advance therapeutic approaches.