The skin protects our body by producing an efficient barrier membrane, the stratum corneum, from desiccation as well as from various damaging effects of environmental chemicals. Although the skin expresses various cytokines after barrier perturbation, exact cell types producing each cytokine have not been determined. Using a cell culture system, we analyzed the initial responses of various cutaneous cells to treatments simulating epicutaneous stimuli induced by a barrier perturbation of the skin in comparison with those caused by irritant or hapten exposure. We used cultured normal human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK), human microvascular endothelial cells (HMVEC) and normal human dermal fibroblasts (NHDF). We treated them with the following chemicals and examined their cytokine mRNA levels 6 h later: high osmotic (0.5 molar) NaCl and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which simulate desiccation and exposure to high oxygen pressure, respectively, that may take place in vivo after perturbation of the barrier. In addition, we also studied their response to two representive haptens, nickel chloride (NiCl2) and dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB), and an irritant, sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). We found that 0.5 M NaCl treatment increased mRNA levels of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1α, IL-6 and IL-8 as well as ICAM-1 in NHEK and IL-1α, IL-1β and IL-6 mRNA levels in NHDF. In contrast, H2O2 treatment remarkably increased IL-10, GMCSF and ICAM-1 mRNA levels in NHEK, and IL-6 mRNA levels in HMVEC and NHDF. The exposure to haptens did not induce any remarkable increase in mRNA levels of the proinflammatory cytokines in NHEK. But NiCl2 increased IL-1α, IL-6 and IL-8 mRNA levels in HMVEC, while DNCB increased only their IL-6 mRNA levels. By contrast, SDS stimulated all the cell types to increase at least some of these proinflammatory cytokine mRNA levels. Our present data suggest that each skin component cell participates in inflammatory processes of the skin through its distinctive cytokine production profile when the skin barrier is compromized physically or chemically.
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