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J Clin Invest. 1993 Apr;91(4):1656-64.

Processing of epidermal glucosylceramides is required for optimal mammalian cutaneous permeability barrier function.

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Department of Dermatology, University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco 94143.


The interstices of the mammalian stratum corneum contain lipids in a system of continuous membrane bilayers critical for the epidermal permeability barrier. During the transition from inner to outer stratum corneum, the content of polar lipids including glucosylceramides, decreases while ceramide content increases. We investigated whether inhibition of glucosylceramide hydrolysis would alter epidermal permeability barrier function. Daily topical applications of bromoconduritol B epoxide (BrCBE) to intact murine skin selectively inhibited beta-glucocerebrosidase, increased glucosylceramide content of stratum corneum with ceramide content remaining largely unchanged, and caused a progressive, reversible decrease in barrier function. Histochemistry of inhibitor-treated epidermis revealed persistence of periodic acid-Schiff-positive staining in stratum corneum cell membranes, consistent with retention of hexose moieties. Electron microscopy of inhibitor-treated samples revealed no evidence of toxicity or changes in the epidermal lipid delivery system. However, immature membrane structures persisted in the intercellular spaces throughout the stratum corneum, with reappearance of mature membrane structures progressing outward from the lower stratum corneum upon termination of BrCBE. Finally, the induced barrier abnormality was not reversed by coapplications of ceramide. These data demonstrate that glucosylceramide hydrolysis is important in the formation of the epidermal permeability barrier, and suggest that accumulation of glucosylceramides in stratum corneum intercellular membrane domains leads to abnormal barrier function.

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