New approaches to the treatment of pemphigus

J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2004 Jan;9(1):84-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1087-0024.2004.00826.x.


In pemphigus vulgaris, treatment with systemic glucocorticosteroids is life saving; it may, however, cause severe side effects, including death. A patient with pemphigus vulgaris and myasthenia gravis was treated for approximately five years with the cholinomimetic Mestinon (pyridostigmine bromide), Imuran (azathioprine), and a topical corticosteroid gel before the need to introduce systemic glucocorticosteroids. Because activation of keratinocyte acetylcholine receptors also has been shown to abolish pemphigus IgG-induced acantholysis in cultured keratinocyte monolayers, a clinical trial of Mestinon was initiated in patients with active pemphigus vulgaris, pemphigus foliaceus, and paraneoplastic autoimmune multiorgan syndrome (also known as paraneoplastic pemphigus). First results indicate that nonsteroidal treatment of pemphigus is possible. Mestinon may be used to slow down progression of the disease and to treat mild cases with chronic lesions on limited areas. Stimulation of the keratinocyte- acetylcholine axis may lead to a therapeutic effect through any of the following mechanisms: (1) stimulating keratinocyte cell-to-cell attachment; (2) accelerating reepithelialization; and (3) competing with the disease-causing pemphigus antibodies, preventing them from attachment to keratinocytes. Glucocorticosteroids and various types of steroid-sparing drugs used to treat pemphigus exhibit cholinergic side effects, including effects on expression and function of keratinocyte adhesion molecules, that are very similar to those produced by the cholinomimetic drugs. Further elucidation of the mechanisms underlying therapeutic efficacy of antiacantholytics may shed light on the immunopharmacological mechanisms of pemphigus antibody-induced acantholysis.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Azathioprine / administration & dosage*
  • Azathioprine / adverse effects
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myasthenia Gravis / complications
  • Myasthenia Gravis / drug therapy
  • Pemphigus / complications
  • Pemphigus / drug therapy*
  • Pyridostigmine Bromide / administration & dosage*
  • Pyridostigmine Bromide / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Pyridostigmine Bromide
  • Azathioprine