Defects in keratinocyte differentiation and skin barrier are important features of inflammatory skin diseases like atopic dermatitis. Mast cells and their main mediator histamine are abundant in inflamed skin and thus may contribute to disease pathogenesis.
Human primary keratinocytes were cultured under differentiation-promoting conditions in the presence and absence of histamine, histamine receptor agonists and antagonists. The expression of differentiation-associated genes and epidermal junction proteins was quantified by real-time PCR, Western blot, and immunofluorescence labeling. The barrier function of human skin models was tested by the application of biotin as tracer molecule.
The addition of histamine to human keratinocyte cultures and organotypic skin models reduced the expression of the differentiation-associated proteins keratin 1/10, filaggrin, and loricrin by 80–95%. Moreover, the addition of histamine to skin models resulted in the loss of the granular layer and thinning of the epidermis and stratum corneum by 50%. The histamine receptor H1R agonist, 2-pyridylethylamine, suppressed keratinocyte differentiation to the same extent as did histamine. Correspondingly, cetirizine, an antagonist of H1R, virtually abrogated the effect of histamine. The expression of tight junction proteins zona occludens-1, occludin, claudin-1, and claudin-4, as well as that of desmosomal junction proteins corneodesmosin and desmoglein-1, was down-regulated by histamine. The tracer molecule biotin readily penetrated the tight junction barrier of skin cultures grown in the presence of histamine, while their diffusion was completely blocked in nontreated controls.
Our findings suggest a new mechanism by which mast cell activation and histamine release contribute to skin barrier defects in inflammatory skin diseases.