Author(s): Cookson WO, Moffatt MF
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Atopic dermatitis is typified by itchy, inflamed skin. It is increasingly common in the developed world and is a major cause of morbidity in infants and young children. Most children with the disease have high levels of immunoglobulin E and many have concomitant asthma. The cause of the disease is unknown, but it is highly heritable. Identification of the genes and genetic variants underlying atopic dermatitis may lead to new treatments and better classification of children with the disease. RECENT FINDINGS: Preliminary genetic studies have identified genes or clusters of genes that are expressed in the outermost layer of the skin to be just as important as genes that may modify the atopic process. These genes may influence other diseases, including psoriasis. Genome screens in mouse models seem to indicate involvement of some of the equivalent chromosomal regions as for human disease. SUMMARY: The findings suggest that atopy in atopic dermatitis may be a secondary process, rather than the cause of the disease. The barrier function of the skin is seen not to be merely passive. Identification of the genes underlying atopic dermatitis is feasible and likely within a few years.