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Acanthosis nigricans - cause and significance

Acanthosis nigricans is a hyperpigmented velvety lesion usually found in the neck and the axillary region. It can also be seen elsewhere e.g. the belt line, creases over the dorsal surface of fingers. The palms and soles are typically not involved.

Pathologically, it is characterized by an increased number of melanocytes associated with hyperkeratotic epidermal papillomatosis.

It is strongly associated with insulin resistance but it is a non-specific condition and can also be found in obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endocrine diseases like acromegaly and Cushing's syndrome, as well as some malignant tumours.

The severity of the acanthosis nigricans correlates with the degree of insulin resistance and the level of serum insulin.
The exact mechanism of its formation is still unclear but it is speculated that there are related IGF-1 receptors in the skin which are activated by ambient hyperinsulinemia.

If the insulting factor is removed, there may be a regression of the lesion.

Below are photos of a patient requiring more than 100 IU of insulin per day and despite dieting, the level of glycemia remained high.

It is an interesting case because it is an atypical location for acanthosis nigricans. The back of neck and axilla were free of any lesions.


  1. I have this on my arms as well. A bit below the knees too. I have PCOS. Precocious puberty. Both my daughters have these conditions as well, but not this pigmentation. I have not yet been diagnosed with diabetes. Staying away from Carbohydrates has really helped. I have always struggled with my weight, hungry frequently. I have hypertension...developed preeclampsia and gestational hypertension. I have been hypertensive since my early 30s, am now 54.


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