Viral infections have been implicated in the pathogenesis of a variety of autoimmune diseases. This investigation was undertaken to determine the presence or absence of viral genomes in the depigmented and uninvolved skin of patients with vitiligo. A polymerase chain reaction assay was used to detect viral genomes in paraffin-embedded skin biopsy specimens. Twenty-nine patients with vitiligo and 22 control subjects were included. Biopsy specimens were screened in a blinded fashion for a panel of DNA and RNA viruses including herpes simplex, varicella-zoster, cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr, HIV, and human T-cell lymphotropic virus. CMV DNA was identified in 38% of the patients studied.

Twenty-one percent had indeterminate results. Results in all control subjects were negative. Polymerase chain reaction screening for identification of other viral genomes was negative. Although not statistically significant, data trends suggested a correlation between the presence of CMV DNA in biopsy specimens and active vitiligo of relatively brief duration. In addition, CMV-positive patients had a statistically significant increased frequency of other concurrent autoimmune diseases. CMV DNA in the depigmented and uninvolved skin of some patients with vitiligo and its absence in control subjects suggest that vitiligo may indeed be triggered by a viral infection in select patients.