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Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 1999 Jan;6(1):101-4.

Ceramidase activity in bacterial skin flora as a possible cause of ceramide deficiency in atopic dermatitis.

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Department of Dermatology, Faculty of Medicine, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


A marked decrease in the content of ceramide has been reported in the horny layer of the epidermis in atopic dermatitis (AD). This decrease impairs the permeability barrier of the epidermis, resulting in the characteristic dry and easily antigen-permeable skin of AD, since ceramide serves as the major water-holding molecule in the extracellular space of the horny layer. On the other hand, the skin of such patients is frequently colonized by bacteria, most typically by Staphylococcus aureus, possessing genes such as those for sphingomyelinase, which are related to sphingolipid metabolism. We therefore tried to identify a possible correlation between the ceramide content and the bacterial flora obtained from the skin of 25 patients with AD versus that of 24 healthy subjects, using a thin-layer chromatographic assay of the sphingomyelin-associated enzyme activities secreted from the bacteria. The findings of the assay demonstrated that ceramidase, which breaks ceramide down into sphingosine and fatty acid, was secreted significantly more from the bacterial flora obtained from both the lesional and the nonlesional skin of patients with AD than from the skin of healthy subjects; sphingomyelinase, which breaks sphingomyelin down into ceramide and phosphorylcholine, was secreted from the bacterial flora obtained from all types of skin at similar levels for the patients with AD and the healthy controls. The finding that the skin of patients with AD is colonized by ceramidase-secreting bacteria thus suggests that microorganisms are related to the deficiency of ceramide in the horny layer of the epidermis, which increases the hypersensitivity of skin in AD patients by impairing the permeability barrier.

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