WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Aug. 6, 2007 -- An unfortunate combination of two interactive proteins may
be behind the familiar redness and irritation of the common skin disease
Until now, many of the nearly 14 million Americans who suffer from rosacea
could tell you what triggers make their condition worse, like spicy foods,
heat, alcohol, or even embarrassment. But researchers say they didn’t know what
exactly caused rosacea.
A new study suggests that overproduction of two inflammatory proteins
results in abnormally high levels of a third protein, which causes rosacea’s
symptoms, including visible blood vessels, bumps, or pimples.
"It's like having lots of gasoline ... and a match," says Richard L.
Gallo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the division of dermatology
at the University of California, San Diego, in a news release. "A trifecta
of unfortunate factors in people with rosacea."
Rosacea is more likely to occur in people with fairer skin. Facial redness
and swelling are characteristic features, which can make it be confused with
There is no cure, but treatments are used to help lessen signs of rosacea.
These can include oral antibiotics and topical drugs.
In the study, published in Nature Medicine, researchers looked at why
people with rosacea have elevated levels of small antimicrobial peptides
(protein-building blocks) that are part of the body's natural defense
They looked at cathelicidin, which normally protects the skin against
People with rosacea had higher than normal levels of cathelicidin as well as
another group of enzymes called stratum corneum tryptic enzymes (SCTE).
Researchers found mice injected with these proteins developed increased
inflammation in their skin, and these proteins reacted to the same triggers as
"Too much SCTE and too much cathelicidin lead to the abnormal peptides
that cause the symptoms of this disease," says Gallo. "Antibiotics tend
to alleviate the symptoms of rosacea in patients because some of them work to
inhibit these enzymes. Our findings may modify the therapeutic approach to
treating rosacea, since bacteria aren't the right target."
SOURCES: Yamasaki, K. Nature Medicine, Aug. 5, 2007, online edition.
News release, University of California, San Diego.
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