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Vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder resulting in skin depigmentation, can be treated with mesenchymal stem cells that target immune pathways involved with inflammation and skin cell regeneration.

  • Mesenchymal stem cells are being proposed for the treatment of vitiligo.
  • In vitiligo, reactive oxygen species and immune responses cause damage to skin cells.
  • Stem cell therapy can regenerate skin cells and reduce the inflammation that leads to depigmentation.

 Vitiligo is a skin condition caused by the destruction of melanocytes, leading to patches of depigmentation. It is a chronic, recurrent, and acquired disease, but its etiology is poorly understood, and treatments remain limited. People affected by vitiligo often experience comorbid psychological symptoms and reduced quality of life. The immune system’s role in the onset of vitiligo has been supported by several lines of research, and recent developments using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been gaining traction in the search for a treatment, according to a recent study published in Transplant Immunology.

Environmental and Physiological Stressors Contribute to Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Vitiligo

Mitochondrial dysfunction may be one of the earliest events of melanocyte damage in vitiligo. Harmful stimuli, such as radiation, cytotoxic agents, stress, and trauma, can cause reactive oxygen species (ROS) to accumulate and reduce mitochondrial function. Increased energy demand of the cell, in turn, produces more byproduct ROS that continue to degrade melanocytes. Innate and adaptive immune responses both contribute further to depigmentation, mainly through damage caused by CD8+ cytotoxic T cells.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) Present a Potential Regenerative Treatment for Vitiligo

MSCs, a type of stem cell that can differentiate into adipocytes, chondrocytes, and osteoblasts, have anti-inflammatory properties and can regulate the immune response, making them a promising method for treating vitiligo. MSCs have already been used in regenerative therapies for immune-mediated skin diseases by promoting anti-inflammatory cytokines, reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines, and reducing oxidative stress on the skin cells to recover melanocyte function.

Further Research Needed to Validate the Efficacy and Safety of MSCs for Vitiligo

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Presently, MSC treatment requires tissue and cell transplantation. Extensive studies of MSC transplants in cell culture, mouse models, and clinical populations show positive signs of melanin recovery while reducing CD8+ T cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines around skin lesions. The discovery and continued research of the immunological pathway leading to vitiligo depigmentation has identified targets for treatments with MSC by correcting harmful immunogenic cascades. Further research in animal models and early-phase trials will validate the safety and efficacy of such treatments.

Source: 

Zhang, M., Xia, T., Lin, F., Yu, J., Yang, Y., Lei, W., & Zhang, T. (2023). Vitiligo: An immune disease and its emerging mesenchymal stem cell therapy paradigm. Transplant Immunology, 76, 101766. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trim.2022.101766