Unravelling effects of relative humidity on lipid barrier formation in human skin equivalents

Arnout Mieremet, Walter Boiten, Rianne van Dijk, Gert Gooris, Herman S. Overkleeft, Johannes M. F. G. Aerts, Joke A. Bouwstra, Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Relative humidity (RH) levels vary continuously in vivo, although during in vitro generation of three-dimensional human skin equivalents (HSEs) these remain high (90–95%) to prevent evaporation of the cell-culture medium. However, skin functionality is directly influenced by environmental RH. As the barrier formation in HSEs is different, there is a need to better understand the role of cell-culture conditions during the generation of HSEs. In this study, we aim to investigate the effects of RH on epidermal morphogenesis and lipid barrier formation in HSEs. Therefore, two types of HSEs were developed at 90% or at 60% RH. Assessments were performed to determine epidermal morphogenesis by immunohistochemical analyses, ceramide composition by lipidomic analysis, and lipid organization by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and small-angle X-ray diffraction. We show that reduction of RH mainly affected the uppermost viable epidermal layers in the HSEs, including an enlargement of the granular cells and induction of epidermal cell activation. Neither the composition nor the organization of the lipids in the intercorneocyte space were substantially altered at reduced RH. In addition, lipid processing from glucosylceramides to ceramides was not affected by reduced RH in HSEs as shown by enzyme expression, enzyme activity, and substrate-to-product ratio. Our results demonstrate that RH directly influences epidermal morphogenesis, albeit the in vitro lipid barrier formation is comparable at 90% and 60% RH.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-689
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Dermatological Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial skin
  • Cell-culture techniques
  • Ceramides
  • Humidity
  • Molecular probes

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