Pemphigoid bullous L12.0

Authors: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer, Maria Bostelmann

Co-Autors: Jeton Luzha, Hadrian Tran

All authors of this article

Last updated on: 29.10.2020

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Agesemphigus; bullous pemphigoid; Bullous pemphigoid; dermatitis herpetiformis senilis; Erythema bullosum chronicum; Parapemphigus; Pemphigoid

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Lever, 1953

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Localized or exanthematic, blistering autoimmune disease of the skin and mucous membrane (mucosal infestation rather rare) of the elderly with subepidermal blistering.

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Most frequent blistering autoimmune dermatosis. Incidence: 6-7/100.000 inhabitants/year. With increasing age, the incidence rises from about 10/100,000 inhabitants/year for 60-year-olds to over 40/100,000 inhabitants/year for 90-year-olds. There are indications that incidences have increased by a factor of 2-3 in the last 20 years.

Bullous pemphigoids are more frequently found in autoimmune diseases, e.g. polymyositis, ulcerative colitis, chronic polyarthritis (rheumatoid arthritis).

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The etiopathogenesis of the disease is unknown.

According to the classification of Coombs and Gell, bullous pemphigoid is a type II allergic reaction (cytotoxic reaction). Production of IgG autoantibodies (IgG1- and IgG4-Ak): Targets are hemidesmosomal antigens, bullous pemphigoid antigen 1 (BP230; bullous pemphigoid 230-kDa protein) and bullous pemphigoid antigen 2 (BP180; bullous pemphigoid 180-kDa protein = collagen type XVII). BP180, also known as type XVII collagen or BPAg2, is a transmembrane glycoprotein with a so-called type II orientation (the NH2 terminus is intracellular, the -COOH terminus is extracellular). Parts of the extracellular terminus (NC161 domain) act as immunodominant segments. BP230 (BPAg1) is intracellular and part of the hemidesmonsomal plaque. Its carboxyl end binds to keratin filaments.

Apparently IgE autoantibodies against the NC16A epitope of the BP 180 protein also play a pathogenetic role (these apparently only occur together with IgG-AK). The formation of the antigen-antibody complexes leads to complement mediated chemotactic attraction of inflammatory cells or to the release of proteases. Serum levels of autoantibodies against the immunodominant NC16A domain of BP180 correlate with the disease activity of the disease.

A special form of bullous pemphigoid seems to be the anti-p200 pemphigoid.

The disease occurs less frequently as a paraneoplastic syndrome (paraneoplastic bullous pemphigoid), e.g. in prostate carcinoma, rectal carcinoma, bronchial carcinoma (Giacaman A et al. 2018).

The following drugs and therapeutic methods are discussed as triggers of bullous pemphigoid:

Triggered by UV rays (UVB, UVA/PUVA) PUVA therapy and X-rays is well documented.

Drug-induced BP shows great clinical variability. It can appear as classical BP, as exanthema exsudativum multiforme or as bullous drug exanthema. The skin changes begin within weeks to months after the start of drug intake. The symptoms subside after discontinuation of the drug. The serological and immunofluorescence microscopic findings are unchanged compared to classic BP.

A genetic predisposition for the disease is associated with the haplotype HLA-DQB1*0301.

Remarkable is the observation that a cerebral apoplex increases the incidence of bullous pemphigoid (Braun-Falco M 2018)

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Occurs at an advanced age, usually after the beginning of the 6th decade. Rarely begins in childhood.

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Especially trunk, armpits, flexion sides of the upper arms, navel region, inner thighs. Less frequently, the palms of the hands/foot soles or the mucous membranes (DD. Pemphigus vulgaris) are involved.

Clinical features
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Frequent: Varied, colorful clinical picture with blistering on the flexor sides of the extremities and trunk and severe itching. The subepithelial, bulging blisters appearing in episodes do not develop on unmodified skin but on red, extensive erythema or urticarial plaques. They are often located at the edges. After bursting of the blisters erosions or crusts develop on erythematous skin. Healing without scarring or milia formation. In addition to healing blisters there are typically newly formed blisters; this results in a colourful juxtaposition of different stages of development of pemphigoid efflorescences.

The Nikolski phenomenon I is negative (important diagnostic phenomenon for the exclusion of pemphigus vulgaris).

The Nikolski phenomenon II (lateral shifting of already existing blisters) is positive, however, this phenomenon is very unspecific for bullous dermatoses.

Oral mucosal changes (rather rare but possible): Mostly no blisters detectable, so only sharply limited erosions (blisters burst quickly due to the high mechanical stress in the oral cavity). Low healing tendency of the erosions.

Rarely: In a few cases there is no formation of the clinically path-breaking blisters. Thus, the clinical leading symptom "bulging (firm) bladder" and the clear clinical assignment to the blister-forming diseases is not applicable. Instead, a clinical picture with severe, therapy-resistant itching, with extensive erythema or plaques, but also eczematous, urticaria or purigo-like skin changes is impressive.

Further special forms of the bullous pemphigoid:

  • Localized bullous pemphigoid (e.g. localized pretibial bullous pemphigoid)
  • Vegetative bullous pemphigoid
  • Cicatrising pemphigoid
  • Pemphigoid gestationis
  • IgA linear dermatosis
  • Pemphigoid non bullous
  • Seborrhoeic pemphigoid (mainly affects older women, localisationi front and back sweat gutter)
  • Dyshidrosiform bullous pemphigoid (picture of Dyshidrosis palmoplantaris, more rarely blisters on the rest of the body)
  • Vesicular bullous pemphigoid (reminiscent of dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Bullous pemphigoid of childhood (often involvement of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, also involvement of the oral mucosa)
  • Bullous pemphigoid under the image of a Prurigo simplex subacuta
  • Pemphigoid nodularis (besides blisters, occurrence of itchy nodules)
  • Erythrodermic bullous pemphigoid (very rare form that can occur after UV therapy)

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Histologically 2 variants of the bullous pemphigoid are distinguished:

  • Cell-rich variant: Subepidermal blister formation with pronounced inflammatory infiltration at the oedematous bladder floor and in the bladder lumen, consisting of numerous eosinophilic leukocytes, lymphocytes and neutrophilic leukocytes.
  • Low-cell variant: Subepidermal blister formation with intact papillae and little to no inflammatory infiltrate.

In biopsy of a pre-bladder stage (urticarial infiltrate), a focal, mixed-cell, epidermotropic infiltrate of lymphocytes, numerous eosinophilic and isolated neutrophil leukocytes is found in edematous papillary bodies and dilated blood and lymph vessels. A diagnostically valuable sign is the linear arrangement of leukocytes and also nuclear debris at the dermo-epidermal junctional zone. Eosinophilic subcorneal microabscesses are more rarely found.

Remark: For the technique of sampling see below. Pemphigus vulgaris.

Direct Immunofluorescence
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The diagnosis of bullous pemphigoid can be secured immunohistologically in connection with the clinical symptoms and the serological findings (this diagnosis is highly relevant!).

In perilesional skin, in decreasing frequency, detection of C3 (94% of patients), IgG (79%), IgM and IgA (each < 20%) linearly at the dermo-epidermal junction zone. Linear IgM detection at the basement membrane may be associated with macroglobulinemia.

A perilesional biopsy is important! The biopsy of a bladder can lead to a false positive (Ig and C3 is deposited non-specifically) or false negative result (Ig/C3 is proteolytically degraded or the bladder roof does not appear at all for technical reasons). A preference for a certain body region is diagnostically not recommended.

Indirect immunofluorescence
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Pemphigoid antibodies: circulating anti-basal membrane antibodies of the IgG class in 80-90% of patients. Here the most sensitive substrate is human split skin. By immunoprecipitation and immunoblotting the autoantibodies bind mainly to the autoantigens BP 180 and BP230. 125 kDa dermal protein requires further characterization.

In 5-10% of patients circulating IgA antibodies are found on the epidermal side.

In the so-called salt split skin examination there is a reaction of antibasal membrane antibodies with the epidermal part of the bladder (bladder cover).

The titers of indirect immunofluorescence do not correlate with the disease activity.

Differential diagnosis
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Pemphigus vulgaris, blistering dermatoses (Table 1).

General therapy
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The therapy must be based on various clinical criteria:
  • Age and underlying diseases (e.g. very old age, diabetes mellitus) of the patient.
  • Type and triggering of the pemphigoid (e.g. medication, UV-irradiation or paraneoplastic).
  • Acuteity and extent of the disease (generalized or localized, special form of scarring pemphigoid): In the case of questionable drug-induced bullous pemphigoid, the medication in question must be discontinued or converted. The neoplastic triggering is disputed, especially since the association with such tumours is described, which occur more frequently in the high pemphigoid age group per se.
  • Notice! "Small tumor search".

External therapy
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Local therapy should be symptomatic, e.g. with mild antiseptics such as 0.5-2% clioquinol cream(e.g. Linola-Sept, R049 ). Alternatively: cadexomeric iodine (Iodosorb ointment).

Alternative: 1% ethacridine lactate ointment.

The blisters are to be opened sterilely.

Internal therapy
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Basically, patients with bullous pemphigoid, with the exception of the localized bullous pemphigoid, require internal glucocorticoids such as prednisolone (e.g. Decortin H) initially 80-100 mg/day combined with potent steroid-sparing immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine (e.g. Imurek Filmtbl.) 100-150 mg/day.

In the case of bullous pemphigoid of medium severity, the initial dosages of glucocorticoid are 1.5-2.0 mg/kg bw/day prednisone equivalent i.v. Azathioprine is the first choice as an accompanying immunosuppressive agent. Dosage: 1,5-2,0 mg/kg bw/day. Prior exclusion of a thiopurine methyltransferase deficiency to avoid myelosuppression. Preventive stomach protection with an aluminium-containing antacid like magaldrate (e.g. Riopan 2-4 tbl. or 2-3 sachets). General guidelines for intensive care in severe cases correspond to those for pemphigus vulgaris.

After stabilisation of the condition, the glucocorticoid dose can be gradually reduced without changing the azathioprine dosage. The glucocorticoid is applied perorally from a dose of < 50 mg prednisone equivalents (stomach protection with antacid) and reduced daily by 5 mg. The aim is a glucocorticoid dose at or below the Cushing's threshold (for 16-alpha-methylprednisolone < 8 mg/day p.o.). Instead of non-halogenated prednisone/prednisolone, a chlorinated glucocorticoid can also be used, e.g. cloprednol (syntestane) at a continuous dose of 1.25-2.5 mg/day).

Further course: After 5-7 months, under close clinical control, an attempt can be made to discontinue immunosuppressive therapy (first discontinue azathioprine, then the glucocorticoid). In case of recurrence with medium-high immunosuppression, the treatment can be restarted (prednisone equivalent 0.5-1.0 mg/kg bw/day p.o. and azathioprine 1.0-1.5 mg/kg bw/day p.o.)

Mycophenolate mofetil (2g/day ) and also dapsone may be considered as alternatives to azathioprine.

Other therapy modalities like tetracyclines (100mg doxycycline 2x/day), methotrexate or oral erythromycin are increasingly recommended.

Resistance to therapy: Only in a few patients (max. 10%) the bullous pemphigoid is resistant to these therapy regimens. In these cases the following procedures are indicated:

  • replacement of azathioprine by cyclophosphamide (endoxane) 1.5-2.0 mg/kg bw/day p.o.
  • Shock therapy with glucocorticoids in high dosage, e.g. prednisone 500-1000 mg/day i.v.
  • IVIG: In smaller studies good experiences with high-dose i.v. immunoglobulin therapy (e.g. Intratect as monotherapy) have been reported. Dosage: 2.0 g/kg bw/day spread over 3 days, monthly therapy cycles (high therapy costs!). According to own experience, combinations with glucocorticoids or immunoadsorption are usually necessary.

Experimental: Occasionally therapy successes with rituximab and omalizumab have been described.

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Chronic, intermittent course. Mortality without therapy is about 20%-40% (!) in the first year and is 2-3 times higher (mostly secondary infections) than in the comparable age group. Here, it is less the extent of the skin symptoms than the multimorbidity of the patients that is decisive.

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Associations with neurological diseases such as: dementia, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis have been described (Kipsgaard L et al. 2017).

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  3. Brown Falco M (2018) Bullous pemphigoid triggered by stroke. Karger compass Dermatol 6:19-20
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  5. Ferreira C et al (2018) Bullous pemphigoid-like skin eruption during Treatment with Rivaroxaban: A Clinical Case Study. Eur J Case Rep Internal Med 5:000724.
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