Spotlight on Research for 2005

February 2005 (historical)

Animal Model Helps Scientists Study Common Skin Disease

Scientists supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) identified an inbred strain of mice that spontaneously develops a condition similar to the adult-onset form of alopecia areata, a relatively common skin disease that results in patchy and sometimes complete hair loss.

The cause of the disease, in people, is believed to be a glitch in the immune system that directs T lymphocytes to attack actively growing hair follicles. Yet confirming the cause - and, therefore, finding effective treatment - has been difficult without an animal model to study.

Already, this mouse model has permitted crossbreeding studies to identify the genetic susceptibility for alopecia areata in this mouse strain, according to lead author John P. Sundberg, D.V.M., Ph.D., of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. Dr. Sundberg and his colleagues found regions on chromosomes 8, 9, 15 and 17 that appear to be associated with the disease's development. This and other recent findings are helping to confirm many hypotheses about this disease, but are also raising questions about other possible mechanisms involved.

The investigators say this new research reinforces the need to do wide searches for genes associated with any disease and to identify a variety of animal models that develop other forms of the disease under investigation. For now, the newly identified mouse model provides an important step toward better understanding the adult-onset form of alopecia areata and facilitating the development and testing of new treatments for it.

The mission of NIAMS, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at

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Sundberg JP, et al. Adult onset alopecia areata is a complex polygenic trait in the C3H/HeJ mouse model. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2004;123(2):294-297.