Case Letter

Recovery of Hair in the Psoriatic Plaques of a Patient With Coexistent Alopecia Universalis

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Practice Points

  • The Renbök phenomenon, or reverse Köbner phenomenon, describes cases where secondary insults improve dermatologic disease.
  • Current evidence suggests that alopecia areata (AA) is driven by a helper T cell (TH1) response whereas psoriasis vulgaris is driven by TH1, TH17, and TH22.
  • Patients with concurrent AA and psoriasis can develop normal hair regrowth confined to the psoriatic plaques. Developing methods to artificially alter the cytokine milieu in affected skin may lead to new therapeutic options for each condition.



To the Editor:

Both alopecia areata (AA) and psoriasis vulgaris are chronic relapsing autoimmune diseases, with AA causing nonscarring hair loss in approximately 0.1% to 0.2%1 of the population with a lifetime risk of 1.7%,2 and psoriasis more broadly impacting 1.5% to 2% of the population.3 The helper T cell (TH1) cytokine milieu is pathogenic in both conditions.4-6 IFN-γ knockout mice, unlike their wild-type counterparts, do not exhibit AA.7 Psoriasis is notably improved by IL-10 injections, which dampen the TH1 response.8 Distinct from AA, TH17 and TH22 cells have been implicated as key players in psoriasis pathogenesis, along with the associated IL-17 and IL-22 cytokines.9-12

Few cases of patients with concurrent AA and psoriasis have been described. Interestingly, these cases document normal hair regrowth in the areas of psoriasis.13-16 These cases may offer unique insight into the immune factors driving each disease. We describe a case of a man with both alopecia universalis (AU) and psoriasis who developed hair regrowth in some of the psoriatic plaques.

A 34-year-old man with concurrent AU and psoriasis who had not used any systemic or topical medication for either condition in the last year presented to our clinic seeking treatment. The patient had a history of alopecia totalis as a toddler that completely resolved by 4 years of age with the use of squaric acid dibutylester (SADBE). At 31 years of age, the alopecia recurred and was localized to the scalp. It was partially responsive to intralesional triamcinolone acetonide. The patient’s alopecia worsened over the 2 years following recurrence, ultimately progressing to AU. Two months after the alopecia recurrence, he developed the first psoriatic plaques. As the plaque psoriasis progressed, systemic therapy was initiated, first methotrexate and then etanercept. Shortly after developing AU, he lost his health insurance and discontinued all therapy. The patient’s psoriasis began to recur approximately 3 months after stopping etanercept. He was not using any other psoriasis medications. At that time, he noted terminal hair regrowth within some of the psoriatic plaques. No terminal hairs grew outside of the psoriatic plaques, and all regions with growth had previously been without hair for an extended period of time. The patient presented to our clinic approximately 1 year later. He had no other medical conditions and no relevant family history.

On initial physical examination, he had nonscarring hair loss involving nearly 100% of the body with psoriatic plaques on approximately 30% of the body surface area. Regions of terminal hair growth were confined to some but not all of the psoriatic plaques (Figure). Interestingly, the terminal hairs were primarily localized to the thickest central regions of the plaques. The patient’s psoriasis was treated with a combination of topical clobetasol and calcipotriene. In addition, he was started on tacrolimus ointment to the face and eyebrows for the AA. Maintenance of terminal hair within a region of topically treated psoriasis on the forearm persisted at the 2-month follow-up despite complete clearance of the corresponding psoriatic plaque. A small psoriatic plaque on the scalp cleared early with topical therapy without noticeable hair regrowth. The patient subsequently was started on contact immunotherapy with SADBE and intralesional triamcinolone acetonide for the scalp alopecia without satisfactory response. He decided to discontinue further attempts at treating the alopecia and requested to be restarted on etanercept therapy for recalcitrant psoriatic plaques. His psoriasis responded well to this therapy and he continues to be followed in our psoriasis clinic. One year after clearance of the treated psoriatic plaques, the corresponding terminal hairs persist.

Hair regrowth in a psoriatic plaque on the forearm.

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