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Br J Dermatol. 1993 May;128(5):473-82.

Barrier function regulates epidermal lipid and DNA synthesis.

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Dermatology Service, Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Francisco, CA.


The stratum corneum, the permeability barrier between the internal milieu and the environment, is composed of fibrous protein-enriched corneocytes and a lipid-enriched intercellular matrix. The lipids are a mixture of sphingolipids, cholesterol and free fatty acids, which form intercellular membrane bilayers. Lipid synthesis occurs in the keratinocytes in all nucleated layers of the epidermis, and the newly synthesized lipids are delivered by lamellar bodies to the interstices of the stratum corneum during epidermal differentiation. Disruption of barrier function by topical acetone treatment results in an increase in the synthesis of free fatty acids, sphingolipids and cholesterol in the living layers of the epidermis, leading to barrier repair. Cholesterol and sphingolipid synthesis are regulated by the rate-limiting enzymes HMG CoA reductase and serine palmitoyl transferase (SPT), respectively. Acute barrier disruption leads to an increase in both enzymes, but with a different time curve: increase in HMG CoA reductase activity begins at 1.5 h, whereas the increase in SPT activity occurs 6 h after barrier impairment. Topical application of HMG CoA reductase or SPT inhibitors after acetone treatment delays barrier repair, providing further evidence for a role of cholesterol and sphingolipids in epidermal barrier function. Repeated application of lovastatin to untreated skin results in disturbed barrier function accompanied by increased DNA synthesis and epidermal hyperplasia. Therefore, we have examined the specific relationship between barrier function and epidermal DNA synthesis. After acute and chronic disturbances not only lipid, but also DNA synthesis, is stimulated. Thus, stimulation of DNA synthesis leading to epidermal hyperplasia may be a second mechanism by which the epidermis repairs defects in barrier function. The link between barrier function and both lipid and DNA synthesis is supported further by occlusion studies. Artificial barrier repair by latex occlusion prevents an increase in both lipid and DNA synthesis. In addition, increased epidermal lipid and DNA synthesis in essential fatty-acid deficiency can be reversed by topical applications of the n-6 unsaturated fatty acids, linoleic or columbinic acid. These studies may be of relevance in understanding the pathogenesis of hyperproliferative skin diseases, such as ichthyosis, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis.

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