UNC study uncovers potentially safer treatment for pemphigus vulgaris

September 6, 2006

Chapel Hill, N.C. - University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers say they may have found a safer, more effective way to treat the autoimmune skin disease pemphigus vulgaris (PV) without turning off the immune system.

Chapel Hill, N.C. - University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers say they may have found a safer, more effective way to treat the autoimmune skin disease pemphigus vulgaris (PV) without turning off the immune system.

Drugs currently used to treat PV suppress the immune system, but the drugs themselves often cause serious side effects. In their study on mice, the University of North Carolina team used a known compound to turn off the signals that trigger skin damage without suppressing the immune system. Similar drugs being developed for human use could offer a potential treatment for PV, the researchers wrote in their study, which appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous research shows that an enzyme called p38 is part of the mechanism by which PV autoantibodies, immune-system cells that attack the body’s own tissues. In a mouse model of PV, the researchers prevented blistering and other signs of the disease by injecting a drug that inhibits the p38 enzyme. Tests showed that the p38 inhibitor drug did not prevent autoantibodies from binding to the skin cells - instead, it prevented them from damaging the skin as they normally do. Thus, it stopped the disease without affecting the immune system.

Of the 48 mice used in the study, half received a high dose of autoantibody that causes gross blistering similar to human PV. The other half received a lower dose that would cause less severe blistering. Half of each group also received treatment with a p38 inhibitor.

In the group that received the high dose of PV antibody, 11 out of 12 mice showed blistering, but of the 12 mice that also received the p38 inhibitor, only one showed blistering.