Vitiligo is a relatively common progressive depigmentary condition that is believed to be due to the autoimmune-mediated loss of epidermal melanocytes. High frequencies of self-reactive T lymphocytes directed toward melanocyte differentiation antigens are found in vitiligo patients and might be directly responsible for the pathogenesis of the disease. An interesting aspect of vitiligo is its relation to melanoma: cytotoxic T lymphocytes directed to self antigens shared by normal melanocytes and melanoma cells are found in both conditions, but the resulting immune reactions are completely different. From this standpoint, the selective destruction of pigment cells that occurs in cases of vitiligo is the therapeutic goal sought in melanoma research.
Presentation of the hypothesis
Our working hypothesis is that vitiligo patients might represent a unique source of therapeutic cells to be used in allo-transfer for HLA-matched melanoma patients. The adoptive transfer of ex-vivo generated autologous tumor-specific T cells is a therapy that has met with only limited success, essentially because of inability to isolate therapeutically valuable T cells from the majority of tumor patients. Ideally, model systems where strong and efficient responses against the same (tumor) antigens are achieved would represent a better source of therapeutic cells. We believe it is possible to identify one such model in the melanoma-vitiligo dichotomy: T lymphocytes specific for different melanocyte differentiation antigens are found in vitiligo and represent the effective anti-melanocyte reactivity that is often ineffective in melanoma.
Testing the hypothesis
Melanocyte-specific T cell clones can be isolated from the peripheral blood of vitiligo patients and tested for their capacity to efficiently expand in vitro without loosing their cytotoxic activity and to migrate to the skin. Cytotoxicity against melanoma patients' non-tumor cells can also be tested. In addition, it would be interesting to attempt an in vivo animal model. If the results obtained from these validation steps will be satisfactory, it might be possible to plan the clinical grade preparation of relevant clones for transfer.
Implications of the hypothesis
When translated into a clinical trial, the possibility of in vitro selecting few effective tumor-specific T cell clones for infusion, inherent with this approach, could enhance the therapeutic graft-versus-tumor effect while possibly decreasing the risk of graft-versus-host disease.