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Elucidating the molecular landscape of the stratum corneum

Starr, Nichola J.; Khan, Mohammed H.; Edney, Max K.; Trindade, Gustavo F.; Kern, Stefanie; Pirkl, Alexander; Kleine-Boymann, Matthias; Elmse, Christopher; O'Mahony, Mark M.; Bell, Mike; Alexander, Morgan R.; Scurr, David J.


Mohammed H. Khan

Max K. Edney

Gustavo F. Trindade

Stefanie Kern

Alexander Pirkl

Matthias Kleine-Boymann

Christopher Elmse

Mark M. O'Mahony

Mike Bell

Principal Research Fellow


Characterization of the molecular structure of skin, especially the barrier layer, the stratum corneum, is a key research priority for generating understanding to improve diagnostics, aid pharmaceutical delivery, and prevent environmental damage. Our study uses the recently developed 3D OrbiSIMS technique to conduct in situ analysis of ex vivo human skin tissue and reveals the molecular chemistry of skin in unprecedented detail, as a result of the step change in high mass resolving power compared with previous studies. This characterization exposes the nonhomogeneity of the stratum corneum, both laterally and as a function of depth. Chemical variations relating to fundamental biological processes, such as the epidermal cholesterol sulfate cycle, are visualized using in situ analysis. We are able to resolve the debate around the chemical gradients present within the epidermis, for example, whether palmitic acid is of sebaceous origin or a true component of the stratum corneum. Through in situ depth analysis of cryogenically preserved samples, we are able to propose that it is actually a component of both surface sebum and the intrinsic lipid matrix. This approach also suggests similarity between the epidermis compounds found in human and porcine skin as a function of depth. Since porcine skin is a widely used model for permeation testing this result has clinical relevance. In addition to using this technique for endogenous species, we have used it to demonstrate the permeation of a commercially important antiaging peptide into the human stratum corneum. Due to its chemical similarity to native skin components and exceptionally low effective concentration, this information was previously unattainable.


Starr, N. J., Khan, M. H., Edney, M. K., Trindade, G. F., Kern, S., Pirkl, A., …Scurr, D. J. (2022). Elucidating the molecular landscape of the stratum corneum. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(12), Article e2114380119.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 26, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 17, 2022
Publication Date Mar 22, 2022
Deposit Date Mar 18, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 18, 2022
Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Print ISSN 0027-8424
Electronic ISSN 1091-6490
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 119
Issue 12
Article Number e2114380119
Keywords Multidisciplinary
Public URL
Publisher URL


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