Topical mechlorethamine restores autoimmune-arrested follicular activity in mice with an alopecia areata-like disease by targeting infiltrated lymphocytes.

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J Invest Dermatol 2003 Mar; 120(3):400-6


Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease targeted at hair follicles with infiltrated T lymphocytes probably playing an important role in the pathogenesis. It was reported in 1985 that mechlorethamine was effective on alopecia areata patients. This has never been confirmed since. The aims of the study were to investigate the effects of mechlorethamine on balding C3H/HeJ mice affected with an alopecia-areata-like disease and to study the underlying mechanisms. Mice were treated on half of the dorsal skin with mechlorethamine and the contralateral side was treated with the vehicle ointment. After 10 wk of mechlorethamine therapy, a full pelage of hair covered the treated side in all the mice and was maintained during the study, whereas the vehicle-treated sides showed either no change or continued hair loss. Immunohistochemistry revealed that infiltrated CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes were eliminated from the treated side. In vitro cell viability assay showed that lymphocytes were much more sensitive to the cytotoxic effects of mechlorethamine than skin and hair follicular cells. RNase protection assay and real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction showed that tumor necrosis factor alpha/beta, interleukin-12, and interferon-gamma were inhibited by mechlorethamine upon successful treatment. Our findings support that mechlorethamine restores follicular activity by selectively targeting infiltrated lymphocytes in vivo in alopecia-areata-affected mice.