Audiovestibular disorders as autoimmune reaction in patients with melanoma

S. Barozzi, D. Ginocchio, M. Socci, D. Alpini, A. Cesarani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Melanoma is an aggressive form of cancer derived from neuroectodermal melanocytes. Melanocytes are present in the skin and hair follicles, as well as in the eye (iris and choroids), the leptomeninges, the anal canal and the inner ear. In the inner ear melanocytes are found both in the intermediate layer of the stria vascularis of the cochlea and in the dark cells of the vestibular organs. They are believed to play an important role in the production of endolymphatic potentials and in the maintenance of normal volumes of the inner ear fluids. Recently, audiovestibular dysfunctions have been demonstrated in patients treated with immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma and have been related to an autoimmune attack on the normal melanocytes of the inner ear.Melanoma is an immunogenic tumor type frequently associated with spontaneous autoimmune manifestations which seem to be associated with better prognosis. The melanoma-associated antigens are also expressed in normal melanocytes in the skin, eye and ear. We hypothesize that inner ear melanocytes could be a target of an autoimmune process in patients affected by melanoma. The immune system could produce antibodies that cross-react with both the melanoma cells and the labyrinth melanocytes causing an altered homeostasis of endolymphatic liquids and provoking some labyrinthic disorders such as vertigo, hearing loss, aural fullness and tinnitus resembling or influencing Ménière's disease. In this perspective, audiovestibular disorders could be interpreted as an attempt by the individual immune system to develop anti-tumor response. In patients affected by melanoma an autoimmune genesis has already been advocated for ocular symptoms in melanoma-associated retinopathy, where the cross-reaction happens against retinal cells.A possible role of inner ear melanocytes should be considered as a potential cause of audiovestibular disorders. Further research is needed to demonstrate a connection between melanoma and labyrinth dysfunctions such as in melanoma-associated retinopathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-338
Number of pages3
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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