1990 J Invest Dermatol 1990 Jul ;95 (1):108-16
Department of Electron Microscopy, Medical Faculty, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Freeze-fracture electron microscopy of in vitro reconstructed human epidermis

Epidermis has been reconstructed in vitro by seeding human keratinocytes on a human dermal substrate in an air-exposed culture. The end product has been examined by freeze-fracture electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of thin sections, light microscopy, and lipid analysis using thin-layer chromatography. Light microscopic observation of hematoxylin-eosin stained, paraffin embedded cross-sections of the cell culture revealed a strong resemblance to its intact human counterpart, especially with respect to the morphologic organization in basal, spinous, granular, and horny layers. Freeze-fracture electron microscopy and TEM of thin sections generally confirmed the observed resemblances and additionally suggested the presence of lamellar bodies in the stratum granulosum, and of lamellar (lipid) structures between the corneocytes. However, some imperfections were also observed, including some anomalous lipid structures in the intercellular space. Lipid analyses in conjunction with essential fatty acid enrichment studies suggested that the structural anomalies observed in the cultured system may be caused by a lack of linoleyl-ceramides resulting from "immobilization" of linoleyl moieties in the form of triglycerides and phospholipids. In its present form, the air-exposed cell culture already looks very promising as a model for studies of, e.g., skin differentiation disorders such as psoriasis or ichthyosis, studies of the percutaneous penetration and intra(epi)dermal biotransformation of drugs, and skin toxicity screenings. It is furthermore expected that the aforementioned imperfections in the air-exposed cell culture should be avoidable by changing culture conditions such as the relative humidity and the pH, the composition of the medium, or both.