Background: Alopecia areata (AA) is a common autoimmune disease, causing patchy hair loss that can progress to involve the entire scalp (totalis) or body (universalis). CD8+NKG2D+ T cells dominate hair follicle pathogenesis, but the specific mechanisms driving hair loss are not fully understood.
Objectives: To provide a detailed insight into the systemic cytokine signature associated with AA, and to assess the association between cytokines and depression.
Methods: We conducted multiplex analysis of plasma cytokines from patients with AA, patients with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and healthy controls. We used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to assess the occurrence of depression and anxiety in our cohort.
Results: Our analysis identified a systemic inflammatory signature associated with AA, characterized by elevated levels of interleukin (IL)-17A, IL-17F, IL-21 and IL-23 indicative of a type 17 immune response. Circulating levels of the type 2 cytokines IL-33, IL-31 and IL-17E (IL-25) were also significantly increased in AA. In comparison with PsA, AA was associated with higher levels of IL-17F, IL-17E and IL-23. We hypothesized that circulating inflammatory cytokines may contribute to wider comorbidities associated with AA. Our assessment of psychiatric comorbidity in AA using HADS scores showed that 18% and 51% of people with AA experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety, respectively. Using linear regression modelling, we identified that levels of IL-22 and IL-17E are positively and significantly associated with depression.
Conclusions: Our data highlight changes in both type 17 and type 2 cytokines among people with AA, suggesting that complex systemic cytokine profiles may contribute both to the pathogenesis of AA and to the associated depression.