Ultradeformable lipid vesicles can penetrate the skin and other semi-permeable barriers unfragmented. Evidence from double label CLSM experiments and direct size measurements

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2002 Aug 19;1564(1):21-30. doi: 10.1016/s0005-2736(02)00401-7.


The stability of various aggregates in the form of lipid bilayer vesicles was tested by three different methods before and after crossing different semi-permeable barriers. First, polymer membranes with pores significantly smaller than the average aggregate diameter were used as the skin barrier model; dynamic light scattering was employed to monitor vesicle size changes after barrier passage for several lipid mixtures with different bilayer elasticities. This revealed that vesicles must adapt their size and/or shape, dependent on bilayer stability and elasto-mechanics, to overcome an otherwise confining pore. For the mixed lipid aggregates with highly flexible bilayers (Transfersomes), the change is transient and only involves vesicle shape and volume adaptation. The constancy of ultradeformable vesicle size before and after pores penetration proves this. This is remarkable in light of the very strong aggregate deformation during an enforced barrier passage. Simple phosphatidylcholine vesicles, with less flexible bilayers, lack such capability and stability. Conventional liposomes are therefore fractured during transport through a semi-permeable barrier; as reported by other researchers, liposomes are fragmented to the size of a narrow pore if sufficient pressure is applied across the barrier; otherwise, liposomes clog the pores. The precise outcome depends on trans-barrier flux and/or on relative vesicle vs. pore size. Lipid vesicles applied on the skin behave accordingly. Mixed lipid vesicles penetrate the skin if they are sufficiently deformable. If this is the case, they cross inter-cellular constrictions in the organ without significant composition or size modification. To prove this, we labelled vesicles with two different fluorescent markers and applied the suspension on intact murine skin without occlusion. The confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) of the skin then revealed a practically indistinguishable distribution of both labels in the stratum corneum, corroborating the first assumption. To confirm the second postulate, we compared vesicle size in the starting suspension and in the blood after non-invasive transcutaneous aggregate delivery. Size exclusion chromatograms of sera from the mice that received ultradeformable vesicles on the skin were undistinguishable from the results measured with the original vesicle suspension. Taken together, the results support our previous postulate that ultradeformable vesicles penetrate the skin intact, that is, without permanent disintegration.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Animals
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Liposomes* / chemistry
  • Liposomes* / pharmacokinetics
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Particle Size
  • Permeability
  • Skin / metabolism*


  • Liposomes
  • Membranes, Artificial