Vulnerability of reactive skin to electric current perception – a pilot study implicating mast cells and the lymphatic microvasculature


G E Piérard, Department of Dermatopathology, CHU Sart Tilman, BE 4000 Liège, Belgium. E-mail:


Background/objective  Sensitive/reactive skin is regarded as a manifestation of sensory irritation. This susceptibility condition to various exogenous factors suggests the intervention of some neuropeptides and other neurobiological mediators. Mast cells are among the putative implicated cells.

Method  The present immunohistochemical and morphometric study was performed on two groups of 36 gender- and age-matched subjects complaining or not from reactive skin as determined by electric current perception. In the mid upper part of the dermis, the numerical density in mast cells and the size of the microvasculature were assessed distinguishing the blood and lymphatic vessels.

Results  Globally, the distributions of data were large in reactive skin. This condition was characterized by a prominent increase in both the numerical density in mast cells and the overall size of the lymphatics. By contrast, no difference was found in the size of cutaneous blood vessels. More precisely, it appeared that a subgroup of people with reactive skin exhibited these changes contrasting with some other individuals whose data remained close to the normal range.

Conclusion  Mast cells and lymphatics are probably involved in the process of sensory irritation affecting a subgroup of the population.