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Recent studies suggest that trained immunity, a state of heightened immune response, could affect vitiligo. This new perspective could greatly impact our understanding of vitiligo’s progression and change how we approach new treatment options.

  • Vitiligo is an autoimmune reaction to the pigment-producing cells in the skin that leads to loss of skin pigmentation.
  • Both innate and adaptive immune systems are involved in vitiligo.
  • Trained immunity might be a factor in the overactive immune response observed in vitiligo.
  • Researchers have found metabolic and epigenetic changes in vitiligo patients, suggesting the role of trained immunity.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that leads to skin depigmentation. It results from a complex interaction involving genetic predisposition and environmental factors. The two main divisions of the immune system, adaptive and innate, are both involved in this process. 

In vitiligo, the body’s initial immune response, known as innate immunity, is activated when pigment-producing cells fail to function properly and become stressed, causing inflammation.  The immune system’s secondary response system, known as adaptive immunity, then begins to specifically target and destroy the melanin-producing cells. 

The Concept of Trained Immunity in Vitiligo

If the innate immune system becomes overly activated it can function in similar ways to adaptive immunity. This response, known as trained immunity may add to the ongoing problems of the disease. The reason why the immune response becomes overly activated in people with vitiligo continues to puzzle researchers.

In a study published in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, researchers reviewed studies on the immune response in vitiligo to learn how trained immunity may contribute to vitiligo’s progression.

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Metabolic and Genetic Clues to Trained Immunity in Vitiligo

Researchers found unusual changes in the melanin-producing cells in people with vitiligo. They observed changes in metabolism, or, the way the cells process energy. And they also saw changes in the cellular DNA. Both of these changes suggest that trained immunity, a type of long-term preparedness of our body’s basic defenses, could be playing a role in vitiligo.

The Emerging Puzzle Piece of Trained Immunity

While there is currently no direct evidence linking trained immunity to vitiligo, these findings offer hope for a deeper understanding of the disease. If trained immunity is indeed involved in vitiligo’s development, learning how it is induced and its effect on melanocyte destruction could be significant. Future research focusing on metabolic and epigenetic changes in vitiligo could reveal more about trained immunity’s role in the disease and potentially lead to new treatment strategies.


Post, N. F., Ginski, G., Peters, R., Van Uden, N. O. P., Bekkenk, M. W., Wolkerstorfer, A., Netea, M. G., & Luiten, R. M. (2023). Trained immunity in the pathogenesis of vitiligo. Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcmr.13101