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J Lipid Res. 2008 Jan;49(1):4-11. Epub 2007 Sep 28.

Thematic review series: skin lipids. Antimicrobial lipids at the skin surface.

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Dows Institute, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


The skin surface represents our interface with the external environment, and as such, is our first line of defense against microbial colonization and infection. Lipids at the skin surface are thought to underlie at least part of an antimicrobial barrier. Some of these lipids are synthesized in the epidermis and are carried to the surface as cells differentiate, whereas others are secreted onto the surface from the sebaceous glands. One such group, free sphingoid bases, are known to have broad antimicrobial activity, and our previous studies demonstrate their presence at the skin surface. Free sphingoid bases may be generated by enzymatic hydrolysis of epidermal ceramides. In addition, our preliminary results demonstrate potent antibacterial activity associated with two specific fatty acids derived from sebaceous triglycerides. Most remarkably, one of these fatty acids (sapienic acid, C16:1Delta6), in combination with a low concentration of ethanol, is very effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). In fact, this combination was far more effective than mupirocin with or without ethanol. Mupirocin is a "gold standard" for activity against MRSA.

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