Clinical, histologic, and electron microscopy study of skin exposed to low-frequency ultrasound



The use of low-frequency ultrasound has been proposed to enhance the transdermal transport of various drugs, a technique referred to as sonophoresis. The aim of the present study was to determine the safety of low-frequency sonophoresis on human and rat skin by evaluating their structural modifications after ultrasound exposure. Human skin samples and hairless rats were exposed to 20 kHz ultrasound in vitro and in vivo, respectively. Ultrasound was used with average intensities ranging from 0.25 to 7 W/cm2 in pulsed or continuous mode. Hairless rats were also exposed to a heat source mimicking the temperature versus time profile during sonication. Skin samples were observed under optical and electron microscopy to detect any structural changes. Human skin samples exposed to intensities lower than 2.5 W/cm2 showed no modification. For hairless rats, slight and transient erythema was observed after 2.5 W/cm2 exposure, whereas deep lesions (dermal and muscle necrosis) were observed 24 hr later. These lesions were also observed when a plastic film was placed between the coupling medium and the animals' skin during sonication. In contrast, no histologic lesion could be seen when a heat source was applied to animal skin. Low-frequency ultrasound induces delayed and deep lesions in hairless rat skin at 2.5 W/cm2 which are not only attributable to the increase in temperature at the skin surface during ultrasound exposure. By using the same ultrasound conditions, human skin seems to be less sensitive in vitro. Anat Rec 264:114–119, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.