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J Invest Dermatol. 2000 Sep;115(3):406-13.

High-expression of sphingomyelin deacylase is an important determinant of ceramide deficiency leading to barrier disruption in atopic dermatitis.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Tokyo Women's Medical University, Tokyo, Japan.


We have previously demonstrated that there is abnormal expression of sphingomyelin (SM) deacylase-like enzyme in the epidermis of patients with atopic dermatitis (AD), which results in decreased levels of ceramides in their involved and uninvolved stratum corneum. For quantitation of the expression of SM deacylase in AD, we synthesized 16-(9-anthroyloxy) hexadecanoylsphingosylphosphorylcholine or [palmitic acid-14C] SM and used them as substrates to directly measure the activity of SM deacylase by detecting the release of labeled free fatty acid. Direct enzymatic measurements demonstrated that stratum corneum from lesional forearm skin (volar side) of AD patients has an extremely high SM deacylase activity that is at least five times higher than in the stratum corneum from healthy controls. In stratum corneum from nonlesional skin of AD patients, SM deacylase activity is still at least three times higher than in healthy controls. In contrast, stratum corneum from contact dermatitis patients shows levels of SM deacylase similar to healthy controls. In extracts of whole epidermis biopsies from AD patients, SM deacylase activities are significantly (3-fold) increased over healthy controls in the particulate fraction, whereas there is no significant difference in the activity of sphingomyelinase between AD and healthy control. In peripheral blood lymphocytes of AD patients, there is no increase in activity compared with healthy controls, indicating a possibility that the high expression of SM deacylase is highly associated with the skin of AD patients. These findings suggest that, in contrast to changes in sphingolipid metabolism due to aging, the hitherto undiscovered enzyme SM deacylase, is highly expressed in the epidermis of AD patients, and competes with sphingomyelinase or beta-glucocerebrosidase for the common substrate SM or glucosylceramide, which leads to the ceramide deficiency of the stratum corneum in AD.

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