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J Invest Dermatol. 1992 Feb;98(2):209-19.

Structural basis for the barrier abnormality following inhibition of HMG CoA reductase in murine epidermis.

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Dermatology Service, Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Francisco, California 94121.


Recent studies have shown that increased epidermal 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl coenzyme A (HMG CoA) reductase activity is crucial for the barrier recovery response that follows solvent-induced barrier perturbation. Upregulation of this enzyme leads to increased cholesterologenesis, formation and secretion of cholesterol-enriched lamellar bodies, and barrier repair. Topical lovastatin-induced inhibition of HMG CoA reductase activity both delays the acute barrier-repair response, as well as leading to a chronic barrier abnormality when applied repeatedly to intact skin. Presently, we assessed the effects of repeated topical applications of two different specific inhibitors of HMG CoA reductase on barrier function, the lamellar body-secretory system, and stratum corneum intercellular domains, with functional and morphologic parameters. Once-daily applications of lovastatin or fluindostatin (XU62-320; Sandoz) for 4-8 d to intact hairless mouse epidermis produced a progressive abnormality in barrier function (transepidermal water loss greater than 2.0-5.0 in treated versus less than 0.25 mg/cm2/h for weakly active analogues or vehicle controls). The barrier defect was preceded by alterations in lamellar body internal structure and a partial failure of lamellar body secretion into the stratum corneum interstices, further confirmed by enzyme cytochemistry. Moreover, the deposition of abnormal lamellar body contents resulted in the formation of clefts in the intercellular spaces at the stratum granulosum-stratum corneum interface, resulting in increased permeability through these domains shown by lanthanum perfusion. Applications of irritants, even when producing a barrier abnormality, did not alter the lamellar body secretory system. Co-applications of cholesterol with the inhibitors reversed both the barrier abnormality and the abnormalities in the lamellar body secretory system that occur with the inhibitor alone. Finally, membrane bilayer structures in the mid-to-outer stratum corneum of inhibitor-treated specimens appeared normal, but the intercellular domains displayed enormously expanded lacunae. However, because similar dilatations also occurred in vehicle-treated samples, they can be attributed to the vehicle alone. These studies provide further evidence that the inhibitor-induced defect in barrier function a) is initiated by inhibition of HMG CoA reductase; b) can be attributed to defects in both lamellar body structure and deposition with resultant abnormalities in intercellular membrane domains in the lower stratum corneum; and c) is further enhanced by permissive effects of the vehicle on the permeability of the outer stratum corneum.

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