Glycerol replacement corrects defective skin hydration, elasticity, and barrier function in aquaporin-3-deficient mice

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Jun 10;100(12):7360-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1230416100. Epub 2003 May 27.


Mice deficient in the epidermal water/glycerol transporter aquaporin-3 (AQP3) have reduced stratum corneum (SC) hydration and skin elasticity, and impaired barrier recovery after SC removal. SC glycerol content is reduced 3-fold in AQP3 null mice, whereas SC structure, protein/lipid composition, and ion/osmolyte content are not changed. We show here that glycerol replacement corrects each of the defects in AQP3 null mice. SC water content, measured by skin conductance and 3H2O accumulation, was 3-fold lower in AQP3 null vs. wild-type mice, but became similar after topical or systemic administration of glycerol in quantities that normalized SC glycerol content. SC water content was not corrected by glycerol-like osmolytes such as xylitol, erythritol, and propanediol. Orally administered glycerol fully corrected the reduced skin elasticity in AQP3 null mice as measured by the kinetics of skin displacement after suction, and the delayed barrier recovery as measured by transepidermal water loss after tape-stripping. Analysis of [14C]glycerol kinetics indicated reduced blood-to-SC transport of glycerol in AQP3 null mice, resulting in slowed lipid biosynthesis. These data provide functional evidence for a physiological role of glycerol transport by an aquaglyceroporin, and indicate that glycerol is a major determinant of SC water retention, and mechanical and biosynthetic functions. Our findings establish a scientific basis for the >200-yr-old empirical practice of including glycerol in cosmetic and medicinal skin formulations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Aquaporin 3
  • Aquaporins / drug effects*
  • Aquaporins / genetics
  • Body Water / drug effects
  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Elasticity / drug effects
  • Glycerol / administration & dosage*
  • Glycerol / pharmacokinetics
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Mice
  • Mice, Hairless
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Permeability / drug effects
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / physiopathology*


  • Aqp3 protein, mouse
  • Aquaporins
  • Aquaporin 3
  • Glycerol