Thalidomide: dermatological indications, mechanisms of action and side-effects

Br J Dermatol. 2005 Aug;153(2):254-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06747.x.


Thalidomide was first introduced in the 1950s as a sedative but was quickly removed from the market after it was linked to cases of severe birth defects. However, it has since made a remarkable comeback for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved use in the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum. Further, it has shown its effectiveness in unresponsive dermatological conditions such as actinic prurigo, adult Langerhans cell histiocytosis, aphthous stomatitis, Behçet's syndrome, graft-versus-host disease, cutaneous sarcoidosis, erythema multiforme, Jessner-Kanof lymphocytic infiltration of the skin, Kaposi sarcoma, lichen planus, lupus erythematosus, melanoma, prurigo nodularis, pyoderma gangrenosum and uraemic pruritus. This article reviews the history, pharmacology, mechanism of action, clinical uses and adverse effects of thalidomide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behcet Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Erythema / drug therapy
  • Graft vs Host Disease / drug therapy
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Lichen Planus / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / drug therapy
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Prurigo / drug therapy
  • Sarcoidosis / drug therapy
  • Sarcoma, Kaposi / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Stomatitis, Aphthous / drug therapy
  • Thalidomide / adverse effects
  • Thalidomide / therapeutic use*


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Thalidomide