New effective therapeutic approach against neurodermatitis found

The areas of skin affected by scabies begin to itch massively. (Image: Gina Sanders / fotolia.com)

Therapeutic approach against neurodermatitis found

How does the immune system react to fungi on our skin? Researchers at the University of Zurich were able to show that the same defense cells that protect against yeast fungi favor the inflammatory symptoms of neurodermatitis. Antibody therapy could alleviate the chronic skin disease.

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Numbness caused by cyclist paralysis does not necessarily have to come from cycling. (Image: Orawan / fotolia.com)

The skin of humans and animals is densely populated with fungi. It is believed that yeasts called Malassezia, which, along with bacteria and viruses, are part of the healthy microflora of the skin, strengthen the body's defenses and prepare the immune system for the encounter with dangerous pathogens - similar to certain bacteria. In contrast to bacteria, however, little is known about the physiological processes that keep the ubiquitous fungi on the skin under control.

Immunologists from the University of Zurich have now shown that the immune system is responsible for the balance on the skin. They were able to demonstrate for the first time in mice and humans that the Malassezia mushrooms stimulate the immune system to produce the messenger substance interleukin-17. If the messenger substance is not released or if the immune cells that produce interleukin-17 are missing, the fungus can grow without restriction and overgrows the skin.

Fungus can promote skin allergy

But what happens when the balance on the surface of the body is out of joint? There are indications that the normally harmless Malassezia mushrooms play a role in neurodermatitis. The present study confirms that the interleukin-17-producing immune cells, which normally protect against fungi and keep their growth in check, contribute to the development of neurodermatitis. The fungus becomes an allergen on the skin, so to speak, and causes an overreaction of the immune system with corresponding inflammatory characteristics on the skin. Experiments with cells from affected atopic dermatitis patients corroborate this finding.

Treatment with therapeutic antibodies

The study suggests that therapeutic antibodies that neutralize the effects of interleukin 17 could be effective in atopic dermatitis. These antibodies already exist and are used with great success in the treatment of psoriasis, according to the researchers. However, it remains to be clarified why the immune response against the ubiquitous Malassezia fungus can become pathological and why the normally protective immune mechanisms fail in atopic dermatitis patients. You can find the study here.

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