Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

John E. Harris


Vitiligo, autoimmunity, biomarker, single-cell RNA-sequencing, T cell, melanocyte, T-cell effector functions


Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which CD8+ T cells selectively destroy melanocytes, leading to a patchy, disfiguring depigmentation of the skin. Our group and others have highlighted the central role of IFN-γ-dependent chemokines in the progression of disease; however, IFN-γ is also reported to have pleiotropic effects on melanocyte biology. We examined whether IFN-γ has a direct role in melanocyte killing. We tested the T-cell effector functions IFN-γ, Fas ligand and perforin by deleting them from autoreactive T cells used to induce vitiligo in mice. We found that disease incidence, disease severity and T cell accumulation in the skin was reduced in mice receiving adoptive transfer of either IFN-γ deficient or Fas ligand deficient gp100-specific T cells; however, perforin was dispensable and led to increased disease scores and T cell accumulation. To determine how melanocytes are affected by IFN-γ signaling during vitiligo, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing on suction blister biopsies obtained from vitiligo and healthy subjects. We discovered that integrin expression and TGFb2 signaling was decreased only in lesional melanocyte transcriptomes. Moreover, melanocytes appear to participate in their own demise by increasing HLA expression and recruiting effector cells through the chemotactic ligand CCL18. The loss of melanocyte retention factors may explain their clean disappearance from the skin during keratinocyte turnover. Taken together, we believe IFN-γ production by autoreactive T cells in the skin leads to clean loss of melanocytes by downregulation of melanocyte retention factors and by increasing their potential to be detected by effector cells during vitiligo.



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