Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease in which epidermal melanocytes are targeted for destruction by CD8+ T cells specific for melanocyte/melanoma-shared antigens. IFNγ is the central cytokine driving disease, but the role of type I IFN in vitiligo remains unclear. We investigated the functional role of type I IFN during vitiligo progression using two different mouse models: one induced with a vaccinia virus (VV) vaccine and one induced with dendritic cells to prime autoimmune T cells. Induction of vitiligo by VV in IFNaR-deficient mice led to the development of severe vitiligo compared with wild-type (WT) mice and was characterized by a significantly enhanced effector CD8+ T-cell response. Severe vitiligo in this model was a result of VV persistence, because exacerbation of disease in IFNaR-deficient mice was not observed when antigen-pulsed dendritic cells were used to induce vitiligo instead of virus. Treatment of B16F10 melanoma-inoculated mice with VV vaccine therapy also induced a significantly enhanced anti-tumor response in IFNaR-deficient mice compared with WT. These results not only help define the pathways responsible for vitiligo progression but also suggest that blockade of type I IFNs following administration of a VV vaccine may provide increased immunogenicity and efficacy for melanoma immunotherapy.
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