Skin Health

Cause of Eczema Discovered

Researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in California have discovered a key player in the cellular interactions leading to eczema, a chronic inflammatory skin condition affecting more than 14 million Americans. The skin of sufferers becomes inflamed or irritated and is marked by redness, itchiness, and dry, cracked skin.

In a study published January 10th 2014 in the journal Cell Reports, Toshiaki Kawakami, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues provide information that supports for the first time in humans the long-held theory that mast cells are a key culprit in causing eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. These cells, sometimes called mastocytes and labrocytes, are known to foster allergies although on the plus side, they also help with wound healing and defend against pathogens. 

According to a release from the institute, the team also showed that a cellular protein known as STAT5 plays a pivotal role in the development of eczema by triggering major increases in mast cells in the skin of some eczema sufferers. The discovery opens the door to creating new therapies to prevent or better treat eczema based on blocking STAT5 in mast cells.

The release quotes Kawakami as saying, "We found that the number of mast cells, which we have previously shown to be important in mouse atopic dermatitis, is increased in human patients. We also showed that these mast cells contain high levels of the active form of STAT5."

Kawakami says this finding is a continuation of his nearly 10-year effort to pinpoint the cascade of key cellular actions involved in eczema. His latest study enabled human confirmation of his earlier findings in mouse models. "We now know that, in eczema, the mechanisms we found in mice are also operative in human disease," he said.  

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