Vitiligo: where do we stand?

Pigment Cell Res. 1993 Mar;6(2):61-72.
Ortonne JP, Bose SK.
Service de Dermatologie, Hopital Pasteur, Nice, France.
Abnormalities in a putative melatonin receptor on melanocytes.
Several different pathogenetic mechanisms.


Vitiligo is a puzzling disorder characterized by a disappearance of epidermal and/or follicular melanocytes by unknown mechanisms. This very common disorder involving 1-4% of the world population is thus of great importance for the practicing dermatologist. The cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to the destruction of melanocytes in this disorder have not yet been elucidated, making it of major interest for the cell biologist involved in melanocyte research. Recent advances in this field, due largely to the availability of techniques for culturing normal human melanocytes, opened new perspectives in the understanding of vitiligo. Although vitiligo has long been considered a disorder confined to the skin, there is now good evidence that it also involves the extracutaneous compartment of the "melanocyte organ." It is also clear that vitiligo is not only a melanocyte disorder, but that it also involves cells, such as keratinocytes and Langerhans cells, found in the epidermis and follicular epithelium. The three prevailing theories of the pathogenesis of vitiligo are the immune hypothesis, the neural hypothesis, and the self-destruct hypothesis. New hypotheses suggest that vitiligo may be due to (1) a deficiency in an unidentified melanocyte growth factor, (2) an intrinsic defect of the structure and function of the rough endoplasmic reticulum in vitiligo melanocytes, (3) abnormalities in a putative melatonin receptor on melanocytes and (4) a breakdown in free radical defense in the epidermis. None of these hypotheses has been demonstrated, and according to the available data, it is likely that the loss of epidermal and follicular melanocytes in vitiligo may be the result of several different pathogenetic mechanisms.