A step closer to treatments to prevent autoimmune skin disorders

Immunologists have discovered new ways to remove the immune cells that contribute to autoimmune diseases in the skin.

Importantly they’ve been able to do that without affecting protective cells that fight infection and cancer.

The new study in Science focuses on specialised subsets of immune cells called tissue-resident T cells, or TMR cells, that hang around in the skin to fight infections and cancerous cells.

TMR1 and TMR17 specifically can contribute to autoimmune skin pathologies, such as psoriasis and vitiligo, when they persist for a long time after disease.

“Specialised immune cells in our skin are diverse: many are critical to prevent infection and cancer, but others play a big role in mediating autoimmunity,” says lead author Dr Simone Park, honorary research fellow at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Australia.

“We discovered key differences in how distinct types of skin T cells are regulated, allowing us to precisely edit the skin’s immune landscape in a targeted way.”

The findings could pave the way for more precise and long-lasting therapies for skin disease.

“Most autoimmune therapies treat the symptoms of the disease rather than addressing the cause. Conventional treatments for skin disorders often impact all immune cells indiscriminately, meaning that we could also be wiping out our protective T cells,” says Dr Susan Christo, from the University of Melbourne, co-first author of the study.

“Until now, we didn’t know how to pick apart ‘bad’ T cells in the skin from the ‘good’ protective ones. Through this research, we discovered new molecules that allow us to selectively remove disease-causing T cells in the skin.”

University of Melbourne’s Professor Laura Mackay, senior author of the study, adds that skin conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo are difficult to treat long-term because the T cells driving disease are hard to remove.

“So, patients often need life-long treatment. Our approach has the potential to revolutionise the way we treat these skin disorders, significantly improving outcomes for people dealing with challenging skin conditions,” she concludes.

This study was carried out in mice, and further research will be undertaken to ensure that the strategies remain effective in humans.

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