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Biophys J. 2002 Sep;83(3):1682-90.

Two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging of the skin stratum corneum pH gradient.

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  • 1Laboratory for Fluorescence Dynamics, Department of Physics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois 61801, USA.


Two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging is used to identify microdomains (1-25 microm) of two distinct pH values within the uppermost layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum). The fluorophore used is 2',7'-bis-(2-carboxyethyl)-5-(and-6)-carboxyfluorescein (BCECF), whose lifetime tau (pH 4.5, tau = 2.75 ns; pH 8.5, tau = 3.90 ns) is pH dependent over the pH range of the stratum corneum (pH 4.5 to pH 7.2). Hairless mice (SKH1-hrBR) are used as a model for human skin. Images (< or =50 microm x 50 microm) are acquired every 1.7 microm from the stratum corneum surface to the first viable layer (stratum granulosum). Acidic microdomains (average pH 6.0) of variable size (~1 microm in diameter with variable length) are detected within the extracellular matrix of the stratum corneum, whereas the intracellular space of the corneocytes in mid-stratum corneum (25 microm diameter) approaches neutrality (average pH 7.0). The surface is acidic. The average pH of the stratum corneum increases with depth because of a decrease in the ratio of acidic to neutral regions within the stratum corneum. The data definitively show that the stratum corneum acid mantle results from the presence of aqueous acidic pockets within the lipid-rich extracellular matrix.

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