Dandruff/seborrhoeic dermatitis is characterized by an inflammatory genomic signature and possible immune dysfunction: transcriptional analysis of the condition and treatment effects of zinc pyrithione

Br J Dermatol. 2012 Jun;166 Suppl 2:33-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2012.10863.x.


Background: Dandruff/seborrhoeic dermatitis is a common scalp condition that is characterized by flakes, pruritus and sometimes mild erythema. These symptoms reflect tissue level events that are poorly understood at the molecular level.

Objectives: The purpose of this work was: (i) to compare gene expression profiles in subjects with dandruff vs. those of subjects without dandruff to determine the key physiological disruptions manifest in the condition; and (ii) to determine the effect on this profile of treatment with a shampoo containing potentiated zinc pyrithione (ZPT).

Methods: In study 1, scalp biopsies were taken from 16 normal subjects and from involved and uninvolved sites in 15 subjects with dandruff. In study 2, 30 subjects with dandruff were treated for 3 weeks with a commercial ZPT shampoo (n = 15) or a vehicle (n = 15), and scalp lesional biopsies were collected at baseline and end of study for transcriptomic analysis. RNA was extracted from all biopsies and Affymetrix gene chips were used to analyse transcriptomic profiles, followed by bioinformatic analysis.

Results: Analysis of study 1 biopsies revealed more than 7000 individual probes differentially regulated in dandruff lesional skin relative to normal. Enriched Gene Ontology categories included: lipid metabolism, immune response, response to stimulus, apoptosis, cell proliferation, and epidermal development. The most striking feature of lesional skin relative to normal was the reciprocal expression of induced inflammatory genes and repressed lipid metabolism genes. Induced inflammatory genes were also enriched in dandruff uninvolved skin, suggesting the existence of predisposing factors associated with inflammation. Many genes increased in lesional skin were increased at the level of protein in stratum corneum samples (e.g. IL-1RA, S100A8, S100A9, S100A11, IL-8). Under conditions known to improve overall scalp condition, the ZPT shampoo treatment in study 2 produced a transcriptomic profile resembling that of normal scalp skin.

Conclusions: These data provide novel insights into the nature of dandruff and the therapeutic action of potentiated ZPT-containing shampoo, and provide a basis to explore many new mechanistic questions related to these topics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / genetics*
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / immunology
  • Down-Regulation
  • Genes, MHC Class II / genetics
  • Genes, MHC Class II / immunology
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Hair Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Keratolytic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Male
  • Microarray Analysis / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Organometallic Compounds / administration & dosage*
  • Pyridines / administration & dosage*
  • Scalp Dermatoses / drug therapy
  • Scalp Dermatoses / genetics*
  • Scalp Dermatoses / immunology
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Hair Preparations
  • Keratolytic Agents
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Pyridines
  • pyrithione zinc