The skin of humans is densely populated by fungi, including a small yeast species called Malassezia, the UZH reported in a press release. These fungi seemingly strengthen the body’s defenses. The immune system controls its growth through the production of the cytokine interleukin-17. “If this cytokine isn’t released or if the immune cells that produce interleukin-17 are missing, there is nothing to stop the fungus from growing and infesting the skin,” explains Salomé LeibundGut-Landmann, professor of immunology and head of the immunology section at the Vetsuisse Faculty of the UZH.
Together with colleagues, LeibundGut-Landmann investigated what happens when the balance on the skin is lost. If the immune system overreacts to the fungus, the research group found this can lead to the dry, inflamed and itching skin lesions characteristic of eczema.
“The findings of our study suggest that therapeutic antibodies that neutralize the effect of interleukin-17 could be an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis,” says study author LeibundGut-Landmann. She reports that these antibodies already exist and are being used to treat psoriasis with great success.