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The role of ceramide chain length distribution on the barrier properties of the skin lipid membranes

The skin barrier function is provided by the stratum corneum (SC). The lipids in the SC are composed of three lipid classes: ceramides (CERs), cholesterol (CHOL) and free fatty acids (FFAs) which form two crystalline lamellar structures. In the present study, we investigate the effect of CER chain length distribution on the barrier properties of model lipid membranes mimicking the lipid composition and organization of SC.

Mojumdar, E.H.; Kariman, Z.; van Kerckhove, L.; Gooris, G.S.; Bouwstra, J.A.
19 May 2014
Online publication (DOI)

The membranes were prepared with either isolated pig CERs (PCERs) or synthetic CERs. While PCERs have a wide chain length distribution, the synthetic CERs are quite uniform in chain length. The barrier properties were examined by means of permeation studies using hydrocortisone as a model drug. Our studies revealed a reduced barrier in lipid membranes prepared with PCERs compared to synthetic CERs. Additional studies revealed that a wider chain length distribution of PCERs results in an enhanced hexagonal packing and increased conformational disordering of the lipid tails compared to synthetic CERs, while the lamellar phases did not change. This demonstrates that the chain length distribution affects the lipid barrier by reducing the lipid ordering and density within the lipid lamellae. In subsequent studies, the effect of increased levels of FFAs or CERs with a long acyl chain in the PCERs membranes was also studied. These changes in lipid composition enhanced the level of orthorhombic packing, reduced the conformational disordering and increased the barrier of the lipid membranes. In conclusion, the CER chain length distribution is an important key factor for maintaining a proper barrier.

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