Vitiligo: Mechanisms of Pathogenesis and Treatment

Annu Rev Immunol. 2020 Apr 26:38:621-648. doi: 10.1146/annurev-immunol-100919-023531. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease of the skin that targets pigment-producing melanocytes and results in patches of depigmentation that are visible as white spots. Recent research studies have yielded a strong mechanistic understanding of this disease. Autoreactive cytotoxic CD8+ T cells engage melanocytes and promote disease progression through the local production of IFN-γ, and IFN-γ-induced chemokines are then secreted from surrounding keratinocytes to further recruit T cells to the skin through a positive-feedback loop. Both topical and systemic treatments that block IFN-γ signaling can effectively reverse vitiligo in humans; however, disease relapse is common after stopping treatments. Autoreactive resident memory T cells are responsible for relapse, and new treatment strategies focus on eliminating these cells to promote long-lasting benefit. Here, we discuss basic, translational, and clinical research studies that provide insight into the pathogenesis of vitiligo, and how this insight has been utilized to create new targeted treatment strategies.

Keywords: IL-15; JAK inhibition; autoimmunity; immune resident memory; vitiligo.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Vitiligo / diagnosis
  • Vitiligo / etiology*
  • Vitiligo / therapy*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines