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J Invest Dermatol. 2000 Sep;115(3):459-66.

Permeability barrier disorder in Niemann-Pick disease: sphingomyelin-ceramide processing required for normal barrier homeostasis.

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1
Departments of Dermatology and Medicine, School of Medicine and Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, School of Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.

Abstract

Prior studies have established the requirement for enzymatic hydrolysis of glucosylceramides to ceramide for epidermal barrier homeostasis. In this study, we asked whether sphingomyelin-derived ceramide, resulting from acid-sphingomyelinase activity, is also required for normal barrier function. We showed first, that a subset of Niemann-Pick patients with severe acid-sphingomyelinase deficiency (i.e., <2% residual activity) demonstrate abnormal permeability barrier homeostasis, i.e., delayed recovery kinetics following acute barrier disruption by cellophane tape-stripping. To obtain further mechanistic insights into the potential requirement for sphingomyelin-to-ceramide processing for the barrier, we next studied the role of acid-sphingomyelinase in hairless mouse skin. Murine epidermis contains abundant acid-sphingomyelinase activity (optimal pH 5.1-5.6). Two hours following acute barrier disruption by tape-stripping, acid-sphingomyelinase activity increases 1. 44-fold (p<0.008 versus vehicle-treated controls), an increase that is blocked by a single topical application of the acid-sphingomyelinase inhibitor, palmitoyldihydrosphingosine. Furthermore, both palmitoyldihydrosphingosine and desipramine, a chemically and mechanically unrelated acid-sphingomyelinase inhibitor, significantly delay barrier recovery both 2 and 4 h after acute barrier abrogation. Inhibitor application also causes both an increase in sphingomyelin content, and a reduction of normal extracellular lamellar membrane structures, in the stratum corneum. Both of the inhibitor-induced delays in barrier recovery can be overridden by co-applications of topical ceramide, demonstrating that an alteration of the ceramide-sphingomyelin ratio, rather than sphingomyelin accumulation, is likely responsible for the barrier abnormalities that occur with acid-sphingomyelinase deficiency. These studies demonstrate an important role for enzymatic processing of sphingomyelin-to-ceramide by acid-sphingomyelinase as a mechanism for generating a portion of the stratum corneum ceramides for permeability barrier homeostasis in mammalian skin.

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