Structural and biochemical basis for the UVB-induced alterations in epidermal barrier function

W. M. Holleran, Y. Uchida, L. Halkier-Sorensen, A. Haratake, M. Hara, J. H. Epstein, P. M. Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


Ultraviolet light (UVR) induces a myriad of cutaneous changes, including delayed disruption of the permeability barrier with higher doses. To investigate the basis for the UVB-induced barrier alteration, we assessed the epidermal lamellar body secretory system at various time points before and after barrier disruption with a single high dose of UVB (7.5 MED) to murine epidermis. Morphological data were correlated with changes in epidermal proliferation and lipid synthesis, indicative of lamellar body generation. Twenty-four hours following UVB, the stratum corneum (SC) is normal, but a layer of abnormal, vacuolated, and lamellar body (LB)-deficient cells is present, immediately beneath the stratum granulosum (SG)/SC interface. Immediately subjacent to this band of damaged cells, normal keratinocytes that contain intact LBs are present. By 72 h, concomitant with the appearance of a barrier abnormality, extensively damaged cells persist at the SC/SG interface, and abnormal lamellar membrane structures appear in the lower SC. Upper stratum spinosum (SS) and lower SG cells appear normal, with increased numbers of LBs. A barrier abnormality is still present at 96 h, in association with membrane abnormalities in the lower SC interstices, but up to four normal-appearing, subjacent SG cell layers are present. By 120 h, accelerated LB formation and precocious LB extrusion occur throughout the thickened SG; normal lamellar membranes are present in the lower SC; and barrier recovery is almost complete. Whereas, epidermal synthesis of the major barrier lipid species (i.e., cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides, including acylceramides) is reduced or unchanged at 24 and 48 h, it increases significantly 72 h after exposure to UVB. Therefore, the delayed disruption of the permeability barrier following acute UVB exposure results from the arrival of a band of lamellar body-incompetent (i.e., damaged) cells at the SG/SC interface. The subsequent, rapid recovery of the barrier, in turn, results from compensatory hyperplasia of subjacent, undamaged SS/SG cells, generating increased numbers and contents of LB. These results underscore the critical role of the stratum compactum in mediating barrier function, and suggest that beneficial therapeutic effects of UV exposure may be due to enhanced lipid production and barrier regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalPhotodermatology Photoimmunology and Photomedicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1997 Aug
Externally publishedYes


  • Ceramides
  • Epidermal lipid synthesis
  • Lamellar bodies
  • Permeability barrier
  • Serine palmitoyltransferase
  • UVB
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Dermatology


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