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Skin's Tight Junctions May Hold Secret to Offering Relief for Eczema With Exclusive Commentary from Joel Schlessinger, MD

Posted: December 20, 2010

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"We want to figure out what current eczema therapies do to both barrier structures and start thinking about new treatments to close the breaks that let irritants in and water out and subsequently drive the inflammation and dryness that is characteristic of the disease," noted Beck, who treats eczema patients in addition to conducting research on the condition.

To better understand the role of tight junctions in eczema, Beck and her team studied skin samples from eczema patients and healthy individuals. Using resistance and permeability tests, they discovered that tight junctions, which act like a gate controlling the passage of water and particles, were strong and tight in healthy skin samples, yet loose and porous in the skin of eczema patients.

On further investigation, they found that a particular tight junction protein, claudin-1, which determines the strength and permeability of tight junctions in skin, is significantly reduced in the skin of eczema patients, but not in healthy individuals or individuals with psoriasis, another common chronic skin disease. They demonstrated that reducing claudin-1 expression in skin cells from healthy donors made the tight junctions leaky and more permeable, a finding in line with results of other research groups.

"Since claudin-1 was only reduced in eczema patients, and not the other controls, it may prove to be a new susceptibility gene in this disease," said Anna De Benedetto, MD, postdoctoral-fellow at the Medical Center and first author of the new study. "Our hypothesis is that reduced claudin-1 may enhance the reactivity to environmental antigens and lead to greater allergen sensitization and susceptibility in people with eczema."

If the team's hypothesis stands up in future research, increasing claudin-1 to combat eczema could be a new treatment approach worth exploring. The University of Rochester has applied for patent protection for increasing claudin-1 with drug compounds to treat eczema.