In the past two decades, research on the role that melanocytes play in vitiligo has greatly increased. A variety of technical advances, such as gene mapping and cloning, have permitted relatively rapid advances in knowledge of melanocytes at the cellular and molecular levels.
Much of the research that holds promise for understanding, treating, and possibly preventing vitiligo is supported by NIAMS. Researchers are looking at the immune response to see if interrupting certain signals given off by melanocytes can help stop the spread of the depigmentation. They are examining the way melanocytes receive signals from other skin cells that direct them to deposit the pigment.
And at the University of Colorado, NIAMS supports a large collaborative project looking for genes that may contribute to vitiligo in several ethnic groups. Researchers have found evidence of a link between vitiligo and a gene called NALP1. It is hoped that further genetic analyses of these groups will enable them to identify one or more additional vitiligo susceptibility genes. This work may lead to development of specific approaches to disease therapy and prevention for patients at high genetic risk.
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