IL-17 may guard against skin infections in alcoholics

Alcoholics face a laundry list of potential health problems, including an increased risk of skin infections due to a compromised immune response. Now a team of investigators has highlighted the well-known link between alcoholism and skin infections, while pointing to a therapeutic target that could reduce or eliminate the risk of infection.

First, investigators added ethanol to the drinking water provided to one group of rodents, while keeping the water supply for a separate group pure. Following a 12-week diet with the ethanol/pure water, they then gave both groups a skin infection with Staphylococcus aureus. The ethanol group had a problem maintaining immune cells and suffered much worse effects.

However, they added, restoring levels of interleukin-17 in the skin significantly improved their condition and helped protect against the spread of infections to the larger group.

"Co-morbidities associated with chronic alcohol consumption often receive less research attention, yet have significant impact on overall quality of life, healthcare costs and potential infectious disease transmission," said John Wherry, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. "These new studies, together with greater understanding of how to clinically manipulate IL-17 mediated immune responses may lead to new treatment opportunities for alcoholism-associated skin infections."

The study appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.

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