Specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses against Melan-A/MART1, tyrosinase and gp100 in vitiligo by the use of major histocompatibility complex/peptide tetramers: the role of cellular immunity in the etiopathogenesis of vitiligo

J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Aug;117(2):326-32. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2001.01408.x.


Vitiligo is a common skin disease characterized by the presence of well circumscribed, depigmented, milky white macules devoid of identifiable melanocytes. Although the detection of circulating anti-melanocytic antibodies and of infiltrating lymphocytes at the margin of lesions supports the view that vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder, its etiology remains unknown. In particular, it is still a matter of debate whether the primary pathogenic role is exerted by humoral or cellular abnormal immune responses. In this study, the presence of specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses against the melanocyte differentiation antigens Melan-A/MART1, tyrosinase, and gp100 in vitiligo patients have been investigated by the use of major histocompatibility complex/peptide tetramers. High frequencies of circulating melanocyte-specific CD8+ T cells were found in all vitiligo patients analyzed. These cells exerted anti-melanocytic cytotoxic activity in vitro and expressed skin-homing capacity. In one patient melanocyte-specific cells were characterized by an exceptionally high avidity for their peptide/major histocompatibility complex ligand. These findings strongly suggest a role for cellular immunity in the pathogenesis of vitiligo and impact on the common mechanisms of self tolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Line
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • HLA-A2 Antigen / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology
  • MART-1 Antigen
  • Male
  • Melanocytes / immunology
  • Melanocytes / pathology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / pharmacology*
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / immunology
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / immunology
  • Neoplasm Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Peptide Fragments / chemical synthesis
  • Peptide Fragments / pharmacology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*
  • Vitiligo / immunology*
  • Vitiligo / pathology
  • gp100 Melanoma Antigen


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • HLA-A2 Antigen
  • MART-1 Antigen
  • MLANA protein, human
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • PMEL protein, human
  • Peptide Fragments
  • gp100 Melanoma Antigen
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase