Scratching a genetic itch in atopic dermatitis

This chart shows the 8 new loci linked to susceptibility to atopic dermatitis.--Courtesy RIKEN

Japanese researchers, including a team from the RIKEN Center for Genomic Medicine (CGM), have found 8 gene loci (locations of genes or stretches of DNA) that are linked to an increased risk of atopic dermatitis, a form of allergic eczema, in Japanese people. In atopic dermatitis, when people touch irritants and allergens, the skin becomes itchy, flaky and scaly, and is more likely to get infected.

The researchers carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to hunt out the loci, looking at 1,472 people with atopic dermatitis and 7,971 controls, all from the Japanese population. They found 8 new loci, and confirmed 7 that had already been found in Chinese and European populations, including some that are also linked with asthma.

Atopic dermatitis affects millions of adults and children worldwide--up to one-fifth of children and 1% to 3% of adults in industrialized countries--and treatments can help some people but not all.

Knowing about the genetics behind this infuriating condition, and understanding the link between asthma and eczema (between 50% and 80% of people with atopic dermatitis will have or develop asthma or allergic rhinitis), could help find better therapeutics.

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