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The genetic basis of alopecia areata: HLA associations with patchy alopecia areata versus alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis.

Many diseases, notably those having a strong autoimmune component, have been shown to have an association with specific human leukocyte antigens (HLA). The molecular basis for this genetic association with disease is the fact that HLA bind and present peptides derived from self and foreign protein antigens to the immune system for recognition and activation of the immune response. Previous studies with heterogeneous groups of alopecia areata (AA) patients have suggested associations with some HLA class I and class II antigens. For this study we selected only patients with long-standing disease and stratified them into two groups by strict definitions of duration and extent of disease: those with patchy AA and those with either alopecia totalis (AT) or alopecia universalis (AU). The patients were tissue typed for HLA class II antigens by biomolecular methods that provided antigen discrimination at an allele level. More than 80% of all of the AA patients typed were positive for the antigen DQB1*03 (DQ3), suggesting that this antigen is a marker for general susceptibility to AA. In addition, two other antigens were found significantly increased in frequency only in the group of AT/AU patients, DRB1*0401 (DR4) and DQB1*0301(DQ7). This strongly suggests that the two clinical types of AA, namely patchy AA versus AT/AU, can be distinguished by a genetically based predisposition to extent of disease.

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