Updated 13 May 2013

Dog DNA holds clue to eczema

A gene found in dogs holds promise as a treatment for eczema.


A gene associated with eczema in dogs has been identified, and that might one day lead to better treatments for people with the skin disease, a new study contends.

The skin of patients with eczema - whether canine or human - is easily irritated by allergens such as pollens, house mites and certain foods. This irritation leads to itching, scratching and flaky skin that is vulnerable to infections.

Examining the DNA of dogs, the researchers found that a genetic region associated with eczema contains the gene PKP-2, which produces a protein important for the formation and proper functioning of skin structure. The finding suggests that an abnormal skin barrier is a potential risk factor for eczema, the study authors said.

"With the help of pet owners, we have managed to collect a unique set of DNA samples from sick and healthy dogs, which allowed us to gain insight into atopic dermatitis genetics," said first author Katarina Tengvall of Uppsala University in Sweden.

Genetic test of eczema?

The findings, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, could lead to better understanding of the disease, which may open the door to improved treatments and perhaps a genetic test for the condition, Tengvall said.

Eczema affects 10% to 30% of people and up to 10% of dogs. Purebred German shepherds are prone to eczema because of generations of selective breeding, the researchers said.

For the study, the researchers compared DNA samples from healthy dogs with DNA samples from German shepherds that had eczema to locate the particular genetic segment associated with the disease. Compared to human DNA, the structure of canine DNA makes it easier to locate areas that carry disease-risk genes, the researchers said.

The similarity between canine and human eczema was underscored by another recent discovery, the researchers said. In that case, a gene involved in the skin barrier was linked to human eczema.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about eczema.

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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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