Localization of ceramide and glucosylceramide in human epidermis by immunogold electron microscopy

J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Nov;117(5):1126-36. doi: 10.1046/j.0022-202x.2001.01527.x.


Ceramides and glucosylceramides are pivotal molecules in multiple biologic processes such as apoptosis, signal transduction, and mitogenesis. In addition, ceramides are major structural components of the epidermal permeability barrier. The barrier ceramides derive mainly from the enzymatic hydrolysis of glucosylceramides. Recently, anti-ceramide and anti-glucosylceramide anti-sera have become available that react specifically with several epidermal ceramides and glucosylceramides, respectively. Here we demonstrate the detection of two epidermal covalently bound omega-hydroxy ceramides and one covalently bound omega-hydroxy glucosylceramide species by thin-layer chromatography immunostaining. Moreover, we show the ultrastructural distribution of ceramides and glucosylceramides in human epidermis by immunoelectron microscopy on cryoprocessed skin samples. In basal epidermal cells and dermal fibroblasts ceramide was found: (i) at the nuclear envelope; (ii) at the inner and outer mitochondrial membrane; (iii) at the Golgi apparatus and the endoplasmic reticulum; and (iv) at the plasma membrane. The labeling density was highest in mitochondria and at the inner nuclear membrane, suggesting an important role for ceramides at these sites. In the upper epidermis, ceramides were localized: (i) in lamellar bodies; (ii) in trans-Golgi network-like structures; (iii) at the cornified envelope; and (viii) within the intercellular space of the stratum corneum, which is in line with the known analytical data. Glucosylceramides were detected within lamellar bodies and in trans-Golgi network-like structures of the stratum granulosum. The localization of glucosylceramides at the cornified envelope of the first corneocyte layer provides further proof for the existence of covalently bound glucosylceramides in normal human epidermis.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Ceramides / metabolism*
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure
  • Glucosylceramides / metabolism*
  • Golgi Apparatus / metabolism
  • Golgi Apparatus / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Intracellular Membranes / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Nuclear Envelope / metabolism
  • Nuclear Envelope / ultrastructure
  • Reference Values
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Ceramides
  • Glucosylceramides