What is the role of immunomodulators in the treatment of atopic dermatitis (eczema)?

Updated: Mar 13, 2019
  • Author: Brian S Kim, MD, MTR, FAAD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Answer

Tacrolimus (topical FK506) is an immunomodulator that acts as a calcineurin inhibitor. Studies have shown excellent results compared with placebo and hydrocortisone 1%. Little absorption occurs. A stinging sensation may occur following application, but this can be minimized by applying the medication only when the skin is dry. The burning usually disappears within 2-3 days. Tacrolimus is available in 2 strengths, 0.1% for adults and 0.03% for children, although some authorities routinely use the 0.1% preparation in children. Tacrolimus is an ointment and is indicated for moderate-to-severe AD. It is indicated for children older than 2 years.

Pimecrolimus 1% is also an immunomodulator and calcineurin inhibitor. It is more effective than placebo. Pimecrolimus is produced in a cream base for use twice a day; it is indicated for mild AD in persons older than 2 years and is particularly useful on the face.

A 2006 black box warning has been issued in the United States based on research that has shown an increase in malignancy in association with the calcineurin inhibitors. While these claims are being investigated further, the medication should likely only be used as indicated (ie, for AD in persons older than 2 years and only when first-line therapy has failed).

These agents are much more expensive than corticosteroids and should only be used as second-line therapy.

Omalizumab is a monoclonal antibody that blocks IgE function. Case reports suggest that it may be an effective therapy for AD; however, a recent randomized, placebo-controlled trial did not demonstrate improvement in the clinical course. [47]


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