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Research team identifies a key marker for rosacea

WASHINGTON – Their cheeks glow red for no apparent reason, the condition comes and goes and can worsen over time. It is almost like acne, but generally affects people age 30 to 60.

Researchers now believe they have found a key mechanism that drives rosacea, a possible clue that could point the way to a treatment for the condition that affects 14 million people in the United States.

Overproduction of two inflammatory proteins results in excessive levels of a third protein that leads to rosacea symptoms, a research team reported in Sunday’s online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

The team found that small proteins called anti-microbial peptides caused the same skin symptoms that are seen in rosacea. The peptides are part of the body’s immune system.

“When we then looked at patients with the disease, every one of them had far more peptides than normal,” said Dr. Richard L. Gallo, chief of the division of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Gallo, who led the team, also is part of the dermatology section of the Veterans Affairs’ San Diego Healthcare System.

The research gives the option for testing to see if there are targets that can reduce the inflammation, said Dr. Jonathan Wilkin, head of the National Rosacea Society medical advisory board. That may suggest targets for an eventual drug therapy.

Antibiotics sometimes have been used to treat rosacea on the theory it might be caused by bacteria.

Antibiotics tend to alleviate the symptoms of rosacea in patients because some of them work to inhibit these enzymes, Gallo said. “Our findings may modify the therapeutic approach to treating rosacea, since bacteria aren’t the right target.”

Gallo’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Rosacea Society and the Association for Preventive Medicine of Japan.