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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Aug;121(2):345-53.

pH directly regulates epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis, and stratum corneum integrity/cohesion.

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University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Department of Dermatology, San Francisco, California, USA.


Both exposure of stratum corneum to neutral pH buffers and blockade of acidification mechanisms disturb cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis and stratum corneum integrity/cohesion, but these approaches all introduce potentially confounding variables. To study the consequences of stratum corneum neutralization, independent of hydration, we applied two chemically unrelated superbases, 1,1,3,3-tetramethylguanidine or 1,8-diazabicyclo [5,4,0] undec-7-ene, in propylene glycol:ethanol (7:3) to hairless mouse skin and assessed whether discrete pH changes alone regulate cutaneous permeability barrier function and stratum corneum integrity/cohesion, as well as the responsible mechanisms. Both 1,1,3,3-tetramethylguanidine and 1,8-diazabicyclo [5,4,0] undec-7-ene applications increased skin surface pH in parallel with abnormalities in both barrier homeostasis and stratum corneum integrity/cohesion. The latter was attributable to rapid activation (<20 min) of serine proteases, assessed by in situ zymography, followed by serine-protease-mediated degradation of corneodesmosomes. Western blotting revealed degradation of desmoglein 1, a key corneodesmosome structural protein, in parallel with loss of corneodesmosomes. Coapplication of serine protease inhibitors with the superbase normalized stratum corneum integrity/cohesion. The superbases also delayed permeability barrier recovery, attributable to decreased beta-glucocerebrosidase activity, assessed zymographically, resulting in a lipid-processing defect on electron microscopy. These studies demonstrate unequivocally that stratum corneum neutralization alone provokes stratum corneum functional abnormalities, including aberrant permeability barrier homeostasis and decreased stratum corneum integrity/cohesion, as well as the mechanisms responsible for these abnormalities.

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