Conference Coverage

Expert shares new insights on the pathophysiology of rosacea



NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. – In the clinical opinion of Richard L. Gallo, MD, PhD, current nomenclature for the diagnosis of rosacea could use a makeover.

“Currently, we’re still operating with an almost 20-year-old set of diagnostic subtypes of rosacea,” Dr. Gallo said at the annual meeting of the Pacific Dermatologic Association. He plans to participate in consensus meeting of experts who will convene this fall in an effort to update and modify these diagnostic criteria.

Dr. Richard L. Gallo

Dr. Richard L. Gallo

According to current nomenclature, subtype 1 is erythematotelangiectatic rosacea characterized by facial redness; subtype 2 is papulopustular, marked by bumps and pimples; subtype 3 is phymatous, characterized by enlargement of the nose, and subtype 4 is ocular, marked by eye irritation. Dr. Gallo pointed out that it’s rare to see just one of these subtypes in rosacea patients, with the exception of the erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (ETR). “There is a large population with ETR alone,” he said.” Most patients with the papulopustular subtype have aspects of ETR. There is a mix of subtypes of rosacea and we clearly need to modify our diagnostic criteria.”

Secondary rosacea features may include burning or stinging, plaque, dry appearance and scale, edema, ocular manifestations, peripheral location, and phymatous changes. Work by several researchers in recent years has shed light on the pathophysiology of rosacea. “We’re learning that there are many aspects to this disease that both trigger it and result in progression of the disease,” said Dr. Gallo, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego. “It seems to have biological triggers that exist both in the environment and initiate from internal sources. We’re understanding more about the nature of those, at least specific molecules externally from microbes and so forth. Internally we understand more about the unique inflammatory signals.”

For example, he and other researchers began to look at the innate immune system patients with rosacea and identified LL37, a multifunction peptide that plays a role in a number of skin diseases, as something that can promote inflammation (Nat Med. 2007;13[8]:975-80). “It also promotes the vascular changes [that occur with the disease],” Dr. Gallo said. “We’re now learning how a dysregulation of enzymes in the skin contributes to making too much of these types of peptides. Therefore, treatment approaches that might modify enzymatic activity become useful.” Researchers have also discovered that some of the innate recognition molecules like toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) are overexpressed in rosacea patients. “Similarly, in terms of the vascular signals, a number of labs are identifying some of the newer vascular transmitters that seem to be uniquely elevated in rosacea, so there’s great reason to be optimistic that given the increased specificity and understanding of what uniquely makes this disease happen, we’ll be able to target it in a safe way.”

A number of published studies have supported these notions, including an analysis of 275 twin pairs (JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151[11]:1213-9). The researchers found that compared with fraternal twins, identical twins had a higher association of National Rosacea Society scores (P = .04), “supporting the concept that there are fundamental genetic factors that are influencing disease,” Dr. Gallo said. Environmental factors found to be associated with rosacea include lifetime UV exposure, smoking, obesity, and alcohol use.

In an assessment of the genetic basis of rosacea by genome-wide association study, researchers identified one confirmed single-nucleotide polymorphism that could be associated with rosacea (J Invest Dermatol. 2015;135[6]:1548-55). It was located in an intergenic region between HLA-DRA and BTNL2, “which is consistent with the overall concept that there is perhaps a genetic abnormality that is leading to increased amino modulation of difficulties,” Dr. Gallo said. For another recent study, researchers analyzed 14 randomized or case control trials involving rosacea patients (Int J Med Sci. 2015;12[5]:387-96). They concluded that vasculature, chronic inflammatory responses, environmental triggers, food and chemicals ingested, and microorganisms either alone or in combination are responsible for rosacea.

Dr. Gallo went on to highlight findings from several studies that link rosacea to an increased risk for certain comorbidities. One, a nationwide case-control study from Taiwan that comprised 35,553 rosacea patients, found that the disease was significantly associated with a risk of certain cardiovascular comorbidities (J Acad Dermatol. 2015;73:249-54). These included dyslipidemia (OR 1.41), coronary artery disease (OR 1.35), and hypertension (OR 1.17). A separate analysis, based 93,314 participants in the Nurse’s Health Study, found that rosacea was significantly associated with a risk of coronary artery disease (OR 2.2). The researchers also observed that comorbidities seemed to increase with duration of the disease (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;14[2]:220-5). Another smaller case-control study of 65 patients and 65 controls found an increased risk with rosacea for coronary artery disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015;73[4]:604-8).


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