An important feature of atopic eczema (AE) is a decreased skin barrier function. The stratum corneum (SC) lipids - comprised of ceramides (CERs), free fatty acids (FFAs) and cholesterol - fulfil a predominant role in the skin barrier function. In this clinical study, the carbon chain length distribution of SC lipids (FFAs and CERs) and their importance for the lipid organization and skin barrier function were examined in AE patients and compared with control subjects. A reduction in FFA chain length and an increase in unsaturated FFAs are observed in non-lesional and lesional SC of AE patients. The reduction in FFA chain length associates with a reduced CER chain length, suggesting a common synthetic pathway. The lipid chain length reduction correlates with a less dense lipid organization and a decreased skin barrier function. All changes are more pronounced in lesional SC compared with non-lesional skin. No association was observed between lipid properties and filaggrin mutations, an important predisposing factor for developing AE. The results of this study demonstrate an altered SC lipid composition and signify the importance of these changes (specifically regarding the CER and FFA chain lengths) for the impaired skin barrier function in AE. This provides insights into epidermal lipid metabolism as well as new opportunities for skin barrier repair.

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Experimental Dermatology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

van Smeden, J., Janssens, M., Kaye, E. C. J., Caspers, P., Lavrijsen, A., Vreeken, R., & Bouwstra, J. (2014). The importance of free fatty acid chain length for the skin barrier function in atopic eczema patients. Experimental Dermatology, 23(1), 45–52. doi:10.1111/exd.12293