Autoimmune diseases affect more than 50 million Americans, resulting in significant healthcare costs. Most autoimmune diseases occur sporadically; however, endemic pemphigus foliaceus (EPF) is an autoimmune skin disease localized to specific geographic loci. EPF, and the related diseases pemphigus vulgaris (PV) and pemphigus foliaceus (PF), are characterized by skin lesions and autoantibodies to molecules found on epidermal keratinocytes. A variant of EPF in patients from El Bagre, Colombia, South America, has recently been reported to be distinct from previously described loci in Brazil and Tunisia epidemiologically and immunologically. As in PF and EPF, El Bagre EPF patients exhibit autoantibodies towards desmoglein-1, a cell adhesion molecule critical for maintaining epidermal integrity. An association of El Bagre EPF with sun exposure has been detected, and ultraviolet irradiation also exacerbates symptoms in PV, PF and EPF. Our hypothesis is that: (1) the autoantibodies generate pathology through an alteration in ceramide metabolism in targeted keratinocytes, resulting in apoptosis and/or cell death and acantholysis, but only when the cell's ability to metabolize ceramide is exceeded, and (2) apoptosis in response to this altered ceramide metabolism is initiated and/or exacerbated by other agents that increase ceramide levels, such as cytokines, ultraviolet irradiation, and senescence.
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