Richard Spritz, MD, started off 2019’s HudsonAlpha seminars with an explanation of what science has learned about the genetics of vitiligo and how it relates to autoimmune disease on the whole. Spritz comes to the Institute from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. In his talk, he noted a relatively long history of documentation of vitiligo, before moving into modern advancements in its study.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system targets healthy cells. In vitiligo patients, this targeting leads to melanin disruption, which causes a loss of skin color. In part, the disease is important to study because it is an autoimmune disorder that has been noted through medical history due to its clear physical manifestation.
Frequently, Spritz explained, people with vitiligo and their close relatives are also affected by other autoimmune diseases. However, despite that significant overlap with other disorders, the vast majority of patients have no other cases of vitiligo in their family. It is a complex disease, meaning that it is not triggered by a single change to a single gene, but instead by a series of genetic variations. Researchers have narrowed down 52 locations in the genome that they can associate with vitiligo. Plenty of genetic mysteries still surround the condition though. For example, the age of onset has shifted dramatically later between the 1970’s and today, with no known explanation for the change.
This seminar was hosted by Greg Barsh, MD, PhD.
More information on HudsonAlpha Research Seminars, including the upcoming schedule, can be found at hudsonalpha.org/seminars.