Washington: Researchers including an Indian-origin scientist have discovered an underlying genetic cause of a type of eczema most common in infancy that also affects millions of adults around the world.
Researchers at Oregon State University found the genetic basis for atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema with dry, itchy and inflamed skin lesions, which is difficult to treat.
Eczema is also related to, and can sometimes cause asthma, a potentially deadly immune dysfunction.
Pharmaceutical scientists at OSU found in laboratory studies that eczema can be triggered by inadequate Ctip2, a protein and master regulator that affects other genetic functions.
They have identified two ways in which improper function of Ctip2 can lead to eczema.
In a previous study, they found that Ctip2 controls lipid biosynthesis in the skin, the fats that are needed to help keep skin healthy and hydrated.
In the new study, they discovered that Ctip2 suppresses TSLP, a cytokine protein produced by skin cells that can trigger inflammation.
Levels of this inflammatory TSLP, which is ordinarily undetectable in human skin, were found to be 1,000 times higher in laboratory animals that had been genetically modified to have no Ctip2 production in their skin.
"In these studies, we`ve basically shown that inadequate Ctip2 is reducing the lipids in skin that it needs to stay healthy, protect itself and perform its function," said Arup Indra, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy.
"At the same time this can allow unwanted formation of proteins that trigger inflammation. The skin`s ability to resist inflammation is going down just as the amount of inflammation is going up, and the underlying reason is that Ctip2 is not doing its job," Indra said in a statement.
"Either or both of these problems can lead to eczema," Indra said.
Atopic dermatitis is associated with a dysfunctional immune response, but researchers have never understood the underlying cause.
"With a better understanding of just what is causing eczema on a genetic basis, we should be able to personalize treatments, determine exactly what each person needs, and develop new therapies," Indra said.
"This might be with topical compounds that increase Ctip2 expression in skin cells, or customised treatments to restore an individual person`s lipid profile. In the future, systemic epigenetic modification might even be possible," he said.
The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.