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Fatty Acids Influence “Solid” Phase Formation in Models of Stratum Corneum Intercellular Membranes

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journal contribution
posted on 02.04.2020 by Xin Chen, Sungjong Kwak, Michel Lafleur, Myer Bloom, Neil Kitson, Jenifer Thewalt
Stacked intercellular lipid membranes in the uppermost epidermal layer, the stratum corneum (SC), are responsible for skin's barrier function. These membranes are unique in composition, the major lipids being ceramides (Cer), cholesterol, and free fatty acids (FFA) in approximately equimolar proportions. Notably, SC lipids include chains much longer than those of most biological membranes. Previously we showed that Cer's small hydrophilic headgroup enabled SC model membranes composed of bovine brain ceramide (BBCer), cholesterol, and palmitic acid in equimolar proportion to solidify at pH 5.2. In order to determine the influence of FFA chain length on the phase behavior of such membranes, we used 2H NMR and FT-IR to study BBCer/cholesterol/FFA dispersions containing linear saturated FFA 14−22 carbons long. Independent of chain length, the solid phase dominated the FFA spectrum at physiological temperature. Upon heating, each dispersion underwent phase transitions to a liquid crystalline phase (only weakly evident for the membrane containing FFA-C22) and then to an isotropic phase. The phase behavior, the lipid mixing properties, and the transition temperatures are shown to depend strongly on FFA chain length. A distribution of FFA chain lengths is found in the SC and could be required for the coexistence of a proportion of solid lipids with some more fluid domains, which is known to be necessary for normal skin barrier function.