Lack of desquamation: the Achilles heel of the reconstructed epidermis
The use of human skin equivalents for screening tests aiming to assess repetitive application of various test agents is hampered by the lack of desquamation in vitro. The present study was undertaken to examine whether the desquamation can be induced by various treatments including mechanical stress, application of various agents that should decrease the surface pH and calcium level, activate the enzymes involved in desquamation process or UV irradiation. In addition, the effect of -hydroxyacids, known to enhance desquamation and to improve the stratum corneum barrier function in vivo, was examined as well. Human epidermis reconstructed on de-epidermized dermis or on fibroblast-populated collagen matrices during a 2-week culture at the air-liquid interface underwent various treatments during an additional 3-week period. The effects of treatments were evaluated on the basis of tissue morphology and lipid composition. The results of the present study revealed that cell shedding could only be induced by a mild repetitive mechanical treatment. The lack of desquamation, under most in vitro conditions, has a practical consequence, since it may hamper the use of reconstructed epidermis for various screening studies aiming to examine the repetitive exposure to topical agents or UV irradiation. The gradual thickening of the stratum corneum will lead to its higher resistance to the environmental stimuli and in this way affect the outcome of the tests. Furthermore, from the results obtained in the present study it became evident that one should be careful in selecting endpoints when, for example, the effects of agents known to modulate melanogenesis are examined.