Clinical Review

Alopecia in Association With Sexually Transmitted Disease: A Review

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Hair loss is common in patients with HIV; in black patients, this loss may be associated with hair straightening.10 Possible causes of hair loss frequently are present in patients with HIV, including chronic HIV infection itself, acute and chronic systemic infections, local infections, nutritional deficits, immune and endocrine dysregulation, and exposure to multiple drugs.10 Alopecia areata and alopecia universalis also have been reported in patients with HIV.11-14

Smith et al10 studied and reviewed the clinical and histopathologic features of hair loss in 10 patients with HIV. They noted that the most characteristic change in the hair of patients with HIV was hair loss with straightening, sometimes associated with fine hair texture and an increased tendency for broken hairs. These changes are seen in late-stage disease, most commonly in black patients. Each patient had telogen effluvium, and it was observed that any chronic or acute infection (including HIV) can lead to this condition. Nutritional deficits, often prominent in HIV patients, may lead to or potentiate telogen effluvium. Secondary infections and changes in bowel mucosa may lead to specific nutritional deficiencies even before evidence of clinical wasting is seen. In addition to caloric and protein malnutrition that may affect hair growth, minerals such as copper, zinc, and selenium are decreased in patients with HIV. Elevated levels of interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor α, which increase epidermal proliferation, may predispose patients to abnormal keratinization by increasing the proliferative rate and nutritional requirements.10

Endocrine regulation is another important factor in hair growth. In late-stage HIV disease, androgen levels decrease while estradiol levels increase. Although thyroid hormone levels are normal in advanced HIV, thyroid functions are elevated to more than expected for the amount of wasting and may contribute to the change of hair texture,10 autoimmune mechanism, associated diseases, and HIV medication side effects.

In the Smith et al10 study, scanning electron microscopy was performed on plucked and pulled hairs of 10 patients with late-stage HIV-1 infection. In addition, scalp biopsy specimens were examined in both vertical and transverse sections. All patients had telogen effluvium. Numerous apoptotic or necrotic keratinocytes were seen in the upper external root sheath follicular epithelium; a mild to moderate perifollicular mononuclear cell infiltrate, often containing eosinophils, also was seen. Additionally, the mononuclear infiltrate was seen surrounding and within the basaloid cells of the follicles in telogen phase; the midfollicular area had the most marked inflammatory infiltrate. Variable dystrophy of the hair shafts also was a consistent feature. Although telogen effluvium is a common response to a wide spectrum of biologic stresses, the presence of apoptotic or necrotic keratinocytes within the upper end of the external root sheath epithelium, as well as dystrophy of hairs, may be markers of hair loss in patients with HIV-1 infection.10

Autoimmune alopecia, including alopecia areata and alopecia universalis, can be seen in association with HIV.11-15 Ostlere et al11 first reported a case of alopecia universalis that developed in a patient 2 years after HIV antibody was detected. The patient showed loss of all scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, and body hair. Two possible mechanisms for the development of alopecia were suggested. The first was that HIV induced nonspecific polyclonal B-cell activation with production of autoantibody either directly or via activated T cells; this supports a humoral theory of alopecia areata pathogenesis. Alternatively, the authors postulated that HIV induced a change in the balance between helper and suppressor cells, which resulted in aberrant cell-mediated immune effect at the hair follicles.11 Werninghaus and Kaminer12 described a similar patient with alopecia universalis; a biopsy specimen revealed perifollicular fibrosis without inflammation.

Stewart and Smoller13 described an HIV-positive patient with altered T-lymphocyte subsets in whom alopecia universalis developed. Results of a skin biopsy of the patient's scalp demonstrated a classic perifollicular lymphocytic infiltrate; results of immunophenotyping of the same specimen revealed that most cells were CD4+ lymphocytes. During the active loss of hair, the patient's ratio of CD4/CD8 cells was decreased; however, the ratio normalized during the period of hair regrowth. Their data suggested that systemic immune dysfunction, as seen in HIV infection, may be more important in mediating alopecia areata than localized immune responses. Because of the proposed mechanism of alopecia areata developing in this patient (ie, influx of CD4+ lymphocytes to the perifollicular regions of skin when the CD4/CD8 cells ratio is low), the authors were surprised that alopecia areata is not more common in patients with HIV infection.13

Cho et al14 described the association of vitiligo and alopecia areata in patients with HIV. They noted that the development of autoimmune diseases, though not life threatening, is an interesting phenomenon that may result from immune dysfunction or from B-cell infection by HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, or other unknown viruses. They described a 47-year-old man who had vitiligo and alopecia areata approximately 2 years after testing positive for HIV antibodies.14 Grossman et al15 described an HIV-seropositive man with acquired eyelash trichomegaly and alopecia areata. They noted that this combination of clinical manifestations is intriguing because the new onset of elongated eyelashes in patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome usually has been associated with severe immunosuppression, and alopecia areata has a presumed autoimmune etiology that requires T-cell activation. They concluded that the occurrence of these dichotomous conditions illustrates the potential selective pathogenesis of progressive HIV infection.15

Medications used in the treatment of HIV can play a role in hair loss. Geletko et al16 reported a 33-year-old HIV-infected man who developed alopecia areata after beginning therapy with zidovudine, a nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitor. The alopecia reversed after the drug was discontinued. The authors proposed that patients with lower CD4+ counts may be more predisposed to zidovudine-induced alopecia than those in the earlier stages of HIV with higher CD4+ counts.16

Indinavir-related alopecia was described by d'Arminio Monforte et al.17 Of 337 patients given indinavir in combination with nucleoside analogues, 5 patients with HIV developed severe alopecia, which was evident clinically after a mean of 50 days of treatment. All patients were receiving triple therapy that included indinavir. Three patients had diffuse shedding of hair involving the entire scalp, and 2 had circumscribed circular areas of alopecia resulting in complete severe hair loss.17 Bouscarat et al18 reported 10 more cases of hair loss associated with indinavir therapy in patients receiving triple antiviral treatment that included indinavir. Hair loss developed during the first 6 months of indinavir therapy and initially involved the lower limbs. Progressive hair regrowth occurred within 4 months after indinavir was replaced by other treatments.18

Ginarte et al19 described significant alopecia induced by indinavir plus ritonavir therapy in 3 patients a few weeks after beginning treatment. The authors noted that patients receiving indinavir often experience retinoidlike effects such as alopecia, xerosis, and cheilitis. Nonscarring alopecia can develop in patients receiving indinavir, with or without retinoid effects.19 Hair loss also has been noted with the use of crixivan.20

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