Electroperturbation of the human skin barrier in vitro: II. Effects on stratum corneum lipid ordering and ultrastructure

  • Craane-Van Hinsberg I
  • Verhoef J
  • Spies F
 et al. 
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In transdermal iontophoresis, drugs can be driven across the skin by electrorepulsion, but their transport can also be enhanced by electrical perturbation of the skin barrier. Our objective was to study perturbing effects of electrical current on human stratum corneum lipid fine structure combining techniques including freeze-fracture electron microscopy. Human stratum corneum was subjected to pulsed constant currents, varying from 0.013-13 mA.cm-2. The voltage across the stratum corneum was high-frequency-sampled and s.c. impedence values derived from it. Upon termination of the current, skin samples were rapidly frozen and processed for freeze-fracture electron microscopy or subjected to X-ray diffraction analysis. Initially a rapid decrease of the resistance and, overall, a rapid increase of the capacitances was observed; generally, these effects became more pronounced with increasing current density. Wide- and small-angle X-ray diffractograms of human stratum corneum exposed for 1 h to the highest current indicated a disordering of both the lateral packaging arrangement and long-range lamellar stacking of the intercellular lipids of stratum corneum. Furthermore, an increase in the stratum corneum hydration level as a result of electrical current application was observed. On electron micrographs of freeze-fracture replicas of human stratum corneum, exposed for 1 h to current densities between 0.013 and 13 mA.cm-2, perturbations of the intercellular lipid structure were observed in accordance with the results of X-ray diffraction; these perturbations aggravated with increasing current density. Together, the data suggest that both the lateral and the longitudinal disordering of the intercellular lipids observed with X-ray diffraction may be responsible for the appearance of perturbed structures observed with freeze-fracture electron microscopy. The lipid disordering may be due to polarization of the lipid head groups induced by the electrical field, followed by mutual repulsion.

Author-supplied keywords

  • FFEM
  • SAXD
  • WAXD
  • freeze-fracture electron microscopy
  • iontophoresis
  • lipid perturbation

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  • Ine W H M Craane-Van Hinsberg

  • J. Coos Verhoef

  • Ferry Spies

  • Joke A. Bouwstra

  • Gert S. Gooris

  • Hans E. Junginger

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