Final Diagnosis: Benign mucous membrane pemphigoid (BMMP).
The patient’s primary care physician prescribed prednisolone(Drug information on prednisolone) acetate 1% eye drops (1 drop in each eye 4 times a day) and a trial of high-dose prednisone (six 5-mg tablets initially for 3 days decreasing every 3 days by 1 tablet). His oral medicine specialist prescribed fluocinonide(Drug information on fluocinonide) gel 0.05% (Disp 300 mL; rinse mouth with 1 teaspoonful for 3 minutes twice a day for a month) for long-term management of the oral lesions. The patient’s condition improved significantly over several months with this therapeutic strategy (Figure 4). Improvement was maintained with use of fluocinonide gel on an as-needed basis.
BMMP, also known as cicatricial pemphigoid or desquamative gingivitis, is an autoimmune disease that involves the oral mucosa and eyes. In most patients, the gingiva is primarily affected, although lesions can occur on the buccal mucosa and palate.1 The condition is benign, but ocular lesions can result in scarring and blindness.2 The epidemiologic evidence indicates that the disease is relatively rare3 but can be associated with significant ocular morbidity. Oral lesions may be the first sign of the disease. BMMP is seen more often in women and in persons older than 50.4
The clinical findings in patients with BMMP include bright red gingiva that is edematous and associated with bullae formation. The oral bullae associated with BMMP persist for longer than bullae associated with pemphigus vulgaris because the cleavage of the epithelium occurs beneath, rather than within, the epithelium as it does with pemphigus vulgaris. Once disturbed, the bullae break and leave a raw, erythematous area that bleeds. Historically, the Nikolsky sign (ie, rubbing of an area or blowing air on the tissue results in blister formation) was considered a sign of the disease; however, it is not currently considered pathognomonic because it is rarely seen in patients with BMMP.5 BMMP can be distinguished from bullous pemphigus vulgaris because the latter disease includes skin involvement. However, in approximately one-third of patients with bullous pemphigus vulgaris, oral lesions occur and may be the first sign of the disease.
Serology is not typically used to differentiate BMMP from other, similar-appearing autoimmune disorders. The histologic changes associated with the condition, as seen on hematoxylin and eosin–stained and immunofluorescence antibody–stained specimens, are specific and diagnostic. Hence, biopsy is necessary to define and differentiate the disease. A tissue specimen, preferably taken from a perilesional region, will reveal deposition of immunoglobulins and complement along the basement membrane zone of the epithelium in a linear pattern. The immune deposits consist of IgG and C3, but IgA and IgM may also be found in some cases.6
Current concepts in pathobiology suggest that the various pemphigoid diseases may be differentiated by basement membrane antigens.7 Although BMMP and bullous pemphigoid have a similar histologic appearance, location of lesions is considered important in defining the condition. BMMP does not typically involve skin lesions. In addition, only 20% to 25% patients with BMMP have low titers (less than 1:40) of sera basement membrane zone antibodies.
Treatment strategies, primarily based on empirical studies (ie, retrospective and case series reports versus randomized controlled research), typically include both systemic and topical corticosteroids. Cyclosporine and dapsone have also been used to manage chronic disease.8 Intravenous immunoglobulins such as etanercept(Drug information on etanercept) or rituximab(Drug information on rituximab) have been suggested for severe disease when cyclophosphamide(Drug information on cyclophosphamide) is no longer efficacious.9
Acknowledgment: This case was supplied by Peter van der Ven DDS, MSD, PhD.