Etiology and pathogenesis of necrolytic migratory erythema: review of the literature

MedGenMed. 2004 Sep 10;6(3):4.


Context: Necrolytic migratory erythema (NME) is a characteristic skin condition seen in the presence of a pancreatic glucagonoma. The presence of NME in the absence of a pancreatic tumor has been termed the pseudoglucagonoma syndrome. In such cases, NME is commonly associated with conditions, such as liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, malabsorption disorders (ie, celiac sprue), and other malignancies. There are many theories on the pathogenesis of NME, which include the direct action of glucagon in inducing skin necrolysis, hypoaminoacidemia-inducing epidermal protein deficiency and necrolysis, a nutritional or metabolic deficiency of zinc or essential fatty acids, liver disease, glucagon induction of inflammatory mediators, a substance secreted from pancreatic and other visceral tumors associated with NME, and generalized malabsorption.

Objective: To present a review of the literature on the clinical presentation, etiology, pathogenesis, and treatment of NME.

Design: Review of the literature on NME occurring in patients both with and without a pancreatic glucagonoma.

Methods: We performed a PubMed review of the literature on the etiology and pathogenesis of NME to identify case reports and reviews published in both the internal medicine and dermatology literature.

Results: Our literature review encompassed 17 primary case reports and literature reviews published in the dermatologic and internal medicine literature on NME in patients both with and without a pancreatic glucagonoma. Although we found no clear consensus among the investigators of a universally accepted pathogenesis for NME, we did identify 4 main categories of etiologic/pathogenetic mechanisms for NME (glucagon excess, nutritional deficiencies, inflammatory mediators, and liver disease) that were discussed by many of the investigators and validated by both clinical and scientific evidence.

Conclusion: The exact pathogenesis and treatment of NME remain ill-defined despite many case reports and studies on NME in the literature. The many systemic diseases and nutritional deficiencies that have been found to be associated with NME suggest a multifactorial model for the pathogenesis of the disease. The most comprehensive, postulated mechanism for NME involves a combination of zinc, amino acid, and fatty acid deficiencies (arising from a wide variety of causes, such as dietary insufficiency, malabsorption syndromes, liver disease, elevated glucagon levels, and disorders of metabolism) that contributes to increased inflammation in the epidermis in response to trauma and to the necrolysis observed in NME. The importance of gaining an understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of NME lies in the fact that there is no universally accepted mechanism of pathogenesis for NME, and that the only treatment reported to resolve the rash in these patients is to adequately identify and treat the underlying associated systemic condition or nutritional deficiency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Erythema / etiology*
  • Erythema / therapy
  • Glucagon / metabolism*
  • Glucagonoma / complications*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases / complications*
  • Nutrition Disorders / complications*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / complications*


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Glucagon