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Dog DNA May Yield Clues to Human Eczema

Findings point to abnormal skin barrier as culprit, researchers say

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FRIDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- 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.

The findings, published online May 9 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 in a journal news release.

Eczema affects 10 percent to 30 percent of people and up to 10 percent 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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