A study of 133 families with vitiligo, a pigmentation disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body, found that family members, --even those who don't have vitiligo--are also predisposed to other, potentially more serious autoimmune diseases. These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disease, adult-onset insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, pernicious anemia (which interferes with vitamin B12 absorption) and Addison's disease (a disorder of the adrenal glands).

Funded in part by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the study also confirmed a previously established link between sporadic vitiligo and autoimmune thyroid disease, pernicious anemia, Addison's disease and lupus.

The study was headed by Richard A. Spritz, M.D., and his colleagues at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The findings, say the scientists, may mean that families with vitiligo clustering have a greater inherited genetic component of autoimmune disease susceptibility than people in families where sporadic vitiligo occurs. Being able to recognize which vitiligo subgroups may be associated with a stronger link to autoimmune diseases is important in monitoring for these diseases and possibly diagnosing them earlier, which can lead to better treatment.

Other funders of this work include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Vitiligo Foundation and the Vitiligo Society (UK).

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at http://www.niams.nih.gov.

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Laberge G, et al. Early disease onset and increased risk of other autoimmune diseases in familial generalized vitiligo. Pigment Cell Res. 2005;18(4):300-305.

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