Imiquimod is derived from the imidazoquinoline family and works by activating both innate and adaptive immune pathways. Imiquimod binds to toll-like receptor 7 located on monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells,1 which allows nuclear factor κβ light chain enhancer of activated B cells to induce production of proinflammatory cytokines, including IFN-α and tumor necrosis factor α, as well as IL-1, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, and IL-12.2 These proinflammatory cytokines play a role in the innate immunity, triggering upregulation of the adaptive immune pathway and activating type 1 helper T cells, cytotoxic T cells, and natural killer cells. These cells have antiviral and antitumoral effects that lend to their significance in coordinating innate and adaptive immune mechanisms.3 More specifically, imiquimod enhances dendritic cell migration to regional lymph nodes and induces apoptosis via activation of proapoptotic B-cell lymphoma 2 proteins.1,2 Imiquimod has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat external genitalia and perianal condyloma acuminata, actinic keratoses (AKs), and superficial basal cell carcinoma (BCC). It often is used off label for antiviral or antitumoral therapy in Bowen disease, squamous cell carcinoma, lentigo maligna, vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, molluscum contagiosum, common warts, and leishmaniasis.1,2 Imiquimod is generally well tolerated; erythema and irritation at the application site are the most common side effects, with pigmentary change being less common.
A 51-year-old man with a medical history of vitamin D deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, tinea pedis, and BCC presented with periungual verruca vulgaris on the right fifth digit and left thumb (Figure 1). The patient was prescribed imiquimod cream 5% to be applied 3 times weekly for 3 months. At 5-month follow-up the patient reported new-onset vitiligolike patches of depigmentation on the hands and feet that abruptly began 3 months after initiating treatment with imiquimod. On examination he had several depigmented patches with well-defined irregular borders on the bilateral dorsal hands and right foot as well as the right elbow (Figure 2). There was no personal or family history of vitiligo, thyroid disease, or autoimmune disease. Thyroid function studies and autoimmune panel were unremarkable. The patient also denied applying imiquimod to areas other than the periungual region of the right fifth digit and left thumb. He declined a biopsy of the lesions and was given a prescription for tacrolimus ointment 0.1% for twice-daily application. At 3-month follow-up the depigmented patches had spread. The patient is currently on 5-fluorouracil cream 5%. Despite loss of pigmentation, the periungual verruca vulgaris has persisted as well as depigmentation.