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Genetic finding suggests alternative treatment strategy for common, complex skin disorders

BETHESDA, Md.-- A genetic finding by researchers at the National Institutes of Health provides new insight into the cause of a series of related, common and complex illnesses including hay fever and asthma as well as the skin disorders eczema and psoriasis and suggests a novel therapeutic approach. These illnesses are essentially inflammatory disorders of the tissues that separate the inside of the body from the outside world, such as the skin and the linings of the throat and lungs.

In the May issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Eye Institute, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, all part of the National Institutes of Health, report that excessive production of a specific protein disrupts the protective properties of the skin barrier. Once the skin barrier is compromised, immune-system-stimulating chemicals allergens can enter the body and cause an inflammatory reaction that, in turn, stimulates skin cells to grow rapidly, further diminishing the protective function of the skin. The compromised barrier, in turn, becomes more porous to allergens that then stimulate more inflammation in a cycle that eventually produces common skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

It may, however, be possible to break the cycle by creating a temporary, artificial barrier on the skin that blocks incoming allergens. The solution could be as simple as developing a lotion that effectively blocks allergens from getting through damaged skin. Keeping allergens out of the skin would keep the immune system from over-stimulating cell growth, giving the skin time to re-create a normal barrier. Current therapies for these skin conditions principally focus on suppressing the immune system, but the medicines used can produce undesired side-effects.

"The human body is an incredibly complex system," said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the Na
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Contact: Geoff Spencer
spencerg@mail.nih.gov
301-402-0911
NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
25-Apr-2006


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