Establishing direct and causal relationships among the confederacy of activated cell types present in psoriasis has been hampered by lack of an animal model. Within psoriatic plaques there are hyperplastic keratinocytes, infiltrating immunocytes, and activated endothelial cells. The purpose of this study was to determine if psoriasis is primarily a disorder of keratinocytes or the immune system. Using a newly developed experimental system in which full-thickness human skin is orthotopically transferred onto severe combined immunodeficient mice, autologous immunocytes were injected into dermis, and the resultant phenotype characterized by clinical, histologic, and immunophenotypic analyses. Engraftment of samples included both uninvolved/ symptomless (PN) skin removed from patients with psoriasis elsewhere, or from healthy individuals with no skin disease (NN skin). In 10 different experiments involving 6 different psoriasis patients, every PN skin was converted to a full-fledged psoriatic plaque skin by injection of autologous blood-derived immunocytes. In all but one psoriatic patient, the immunocytes required preactivation with IL-2 and superantigens to convert PN skin into psoriatic plaque skin. In every case, resultant plaques were characterized by visible presence of flaking and thickened skin, loss of the granular cell layer, prominent elongation of rete pegs with a dermal angiogenic tissue reaction, and infiltration within the epidermis by T cells. Lesional skin displayed 20 different antigenic determinants of the psoriatic phenotype. None of the four NN skin samples injected with autologous immunocytes converted to psoriatic plaques. We conclude that psoriasis is caused primarily by the ability of pathogenetic blood-derived immunocytes to induce secondary activation and disordered growth of endogenous cutaneous cells including keratinocytes and vascular endothelium.
T Wrone-Smith, B J Nickoloff