Glycerol regulates stratum corneum hydration in sebaceous gland deficient (asebia) mice

J Invest Dermatol. 2003 May;120(5):728-37. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2003.12134.x.


The only known function of human sebaceous glands is the provocation of acne. We assessed here whether sebum influences stratum corneum hydration or permeability barrier function in asebia J1 and 2 J mice, with profound sebaceous gland hypoplasia. Asebia J1 mice showed normal permeability barrier homeostasis and extracellular lamellar membrane structures, but they displayed epidermal hyperplasia, inflammation, and decreased (>50%) stratum corneum hydration, associated with a reduction in sebaceous gland lipids (wax diesters/monoesters, sterol esters). The triglyceride content of both asebia and control stratum corneum was low, consistent with high rates of triglyceride hydrolysis within the normal pilosebaceous apparatus, despite high rates of triglyceride synthesis. Although a mixture of synthetic, sebum-like lipids (sterol/wax esters, triglycerides) did not restore normal stratum corneum hydration to asebia skin, topical glycerol, the putative product of triglyceride hydrolysis in sebaceous glands, normalized stratum corneum hydration, and the glycerol content of asebia stratum corneum was 85% lower than in normal stratum corneum. In contrast, another potent endogenous humectant (urea) did not correct the abnormality. The importance of glycerol generation from triglyceride in sebaceous glands for stratum corneum hydration was demonstrated further by (i) the absence of sebaceous-gland-associated lipase activity in asebia mice, whereas abundant enzyme activity was present in the glands of control mice; and (ii) the inability of high concentrations of topical triglyceride to correct the hydration abnormality, despite the presence of abundant lipase activity in asebia stratum corneum. These results show that sebaceous-gland-derived glycerol is a major contributor to stratum corneum hydration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epidermis / anatomy & histology
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Glycerol / metabolism*
  • Lipase / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Sebaceous Glands / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Water
  • Lipase
  • Glycerol