An update on the microbiology, immunology and genetics of seborrheic dermatitis

Jonas A. Adalsteinsson, Shivani Kaushik, Sonal Muzumdar, Emma Guttman, Jonathan Ungar

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56 Scopus citations


The underlying mechanism of seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is poorly understood but major scientific progress has been made in recent years related to microbiology, immunology and genetics. In light of this, the major goal of this article was to summarize the most recent articles on SD, specifically related to underlying pathophysiology. SD results from Malassezia hydrolysation of free fatty acids with activation of the immune system by the way of pattern recognition receptors, inflammasome, IL-1β and NF-kB. M. restricta and M. globosa are likely the most virulent subspecies, producing large quantities of irritating oleic acids, leading to IL-8 and IL-17 activation. IL-17 and IL-4 might play a big role in pathogenesis, but this needs to be further studied using novel biologics. No clear genetic predisposition has been established; however, recent studies implicated certain increased-risk human leucocyte antigen (HLA) alleles, such as A*32, DQB1*05 and DRB1*01 as well as possible associations with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD) through the LCE3 gene cluster while SD, and SD-like syndromes, shares genetic mutations that appear to impair the ability of the immune system to restrict Malassezia growth, partially due to complement system dysfunction. A paucity of studies exists looking at the relationship between SD and systemic disease. In HIV, SD is thought to be secondary to a combination of immune dysregulation and disruption in skin microbiota with unhindered Malassezia proliferation. In Parkinson's disease, SD is most likely secondary to parasympathetic hyperactivity with increased sebum production as well as facial immobility which leads to sebum accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-489
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Dermatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2020


  • Malassezia
  • inflammasome
  • sebaceous glands
  • seborrheic dermatitis
  • systemic disease


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