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Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2006;19(2):95-100. Epub 2006 May 9.

Skin ultrastructure in senile lentigo.

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  • 1LVMH Recherche, Branche Parfums et Cosmétiques, Saint Jean de Braye, France.


Senile lentigo is a common component of photoaged skin. It is characterized by hyperpigmented macules which affect chronically irradiated skin mostly after the age of 50. This study was undertaken to assess the morphology of senile lentigo on the dorsum of the hands. A systematic comparison between lesional and perilesional skin using histology and transmission electron microscopy was done to determine whether melanocytes or keratinocytes are affected in the evolution of lesions and which tissue structure is modified. The histology study showed that lesional skin is characterized by a hyperpigmented basal layer and an elongation of the rete ridges, which seem to drive deeply into the dermis. The epidermis contained clusters of keratinocytes, which retained and accumulated the melanin pigment. Electron microscopy studies showed important modifications in the lesional skin ultrastructure in comparison with perilesional skin. In melanocytes from perilesional and lesional skin, we observed normal size melanosomes at all stages of maturation in the cytoplasm and in migration within dendrites. No pigment accumulation was observed. However, the morphology of melanocytes in lesional skin revealed an activated status with numerous mitochondria and a well-developed endoplasmic reticulum, which could reflect intense protein synthesis. In basal keratinocytes from lesional skin, we observed numerous melanosome complexes called polymelanosomes, which formed massive caps on the nuclei. Observations in colored semi-thin sections also revealed perturbed structures in the basal layer region, which could explain the skin perturbation. Indeed, we observed keratinocytes that presented important microinvaginations and pendulum melanocytes, which sank into the dermis, beneath the basal layer of keratinocytes. These cell modifications seemed to be due to a perturbation of the dermal-epidermal junction, which appeared disorganized and disrupted and could directly disturb the basal support of the cells.

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