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Pharm Res. 1991 Mar;8(3):350-4.

Evidence that oleic acid exists in a separate phase within stratum corneum lipids.

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  • 1Central Research Division, Pfizer Inc., Groton, Connecticut 06340.


Oleic acid is known to be a penetration enhancer for polar to moderately polar molecules. A mechanism related to lipid phase separation has been previously proposed by this laboratory to explain the increases in skin transport. In the studies presented here, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) was utilized to investigate whether or not oleic acid exists in a separate phase within stratum corneum (SC) lipids. Per-deuterated oleic acid was employed allowing the conformational phase behavior of the exogenously added fatty acid and the endogenous SC lipids to be monitored independently of each other. The results indicated that oleic acid exerts a significant effect on the SC lipids, lowering the lipid transition temperature (Tm) in addition to increasing the conformational freedom or flexibility of the endogenous lipid alkyl chains above their Tm. At temperatures lower than Tm, however, oleic acid did not significantly change the chain disorder of the SC lipids. Similar results were obtained with lipids isolated from the SC by chloroform:methanol extraction. Oleic acid, itself, was almost fully disordered at temperatures both above and below the endogenous lipid Tm in the intact SC and extracted lipid samples. This finding suggested that oleic acid does exist as a liquid within the SC lipids. The coexistence of fluid oleic acid and ordered SC lipids, at physiological temperatures, is consistent with the previously proposed phase-separation transport mechanism for enhanced diffusion.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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