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Role of the epidermal barrier in atopic dermatitis


  • Section Editor
    Prof. Dr. Jan C. Simon,

Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Ehrhardt Proksch
Schittenhelmstraße 7
D-24105 Kiel
Tel.: +49-431-597-1505
Fax: +49-431-597-1611


The skin's permeability barrier protects against extensive water loss and prevents the entry into the skin of harmful substances like irritants, allergens and microorganisms. The permeability barrier is mainly located in the stratum corneum and consists of corneocytes and a lipid-enriched intercellular domain. The barrier is formed during epidermal differentiation. In atopic dermatitis the skin barrier is disturbed already in non-lesional skin. The disturbed skin barrier allows the entry of environmental allergens from house dust mites, animal dander and grass pollen into the skin. In predisposed individuals these allergens may trigger via immunologic pathways the inflammation of atopy. The causes for the disturbed epidermal skin barrier are changes in skin lipids and in epidermal differentiation, in particular filaggrin mutations. Filaggrin mutations lead to a disturbed skin barrier and dry skin which are hallmarks in atopic dermatitis. Therapeutic agents influence the skin barrier differently; topical therapy with potent corticosteroids does not lead to the repair of the barrier in atopic dermatitis, whereas therapy with the calcineurin inhibitors and lipid-containing emulsions support barrier repair.