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Prog Lipid Res. 2003 Jan;42(1):1-36.

Structure of the skin barrier and its modulation by vesicular formulations.

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Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Leiden University, PO Box 9502, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.


The natural function of the skin is to protect the body from unwanted influences from the environment. The main barrier of the skin is located in the outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Since the lipids regions in the stratum corneum form the only continuous structure, substances applied onto the skin always have to pass these regions. For this reason the organization in the lipid domains is considered to be very important for the skin barrier function. Due to the exceptional stratum corneum lipid composition, with long chain ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol as main lipid classes, the lipid phase behavior is different from that of other biological membranes. In stratum corneum crystalline phases are predominantly present, but most probably a subpopulation of lipids forms a liquid phase. Both the crystalline nature and the presence of a 13 nm lamellar phase are considered to be crucial for the skin barrier function. Since it is impossible to selectively extract individual lipid classes from the stratum corneum, the lipid organization has been studied in vitro using isolated lipid mixtures. These studies revealed that mixtures prepared with isolated stratum corneum lipids mimic to a high extent stratum corneum lipid phase behavior. This indicates that proteins do not play an important role in the stratum corneum lipid phase behavior. Furthermore, it was noticed that mixtures prepared only with ceramides and cholesterol already form the 13 nm lamellar phase. In the presence of free fatty acids the lattice density of the structure increases. In stratum corneum the ceramide fraction consists of various ceramide subclasses and the formation of the 13 nm lamellar phase is also affected by the ceramide composition. Particularly the presence of ceramide 1 is crucial. Based on these findings a molecular model has recently been proposed for the organization of the 13 nm lamellar phase, referred to as "the sandwich model", in which crystalline and liquid domains coexist. The major problem for topical drug delivery is the low diffusion rate of drugs across the stratum corneum. Therefore, several methods have been assessed to increase the permeation rate of drugs temporarily and locally. One of the approaches is the application of drugs in formulations containing vesicles. In order to unravel the mechanisms involved in increasing the drug transport across the skin, information on the effect of vesicles on drug permeation rate, the permeation pathway and perturbations of the skin ultrastructure is of importance. In the second part of this paper the possible interactions between vesicles and skin are described, focusing on differences between the effects of gel-state vesicles, liquid-state vesicles and elastic vesicles.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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