Immunization with DNA through the skin

Methods. 2003 Nov;31(3):232-42. doi: 10.1016/s1046-2023(03)00137-3.


The skin has evolved as a barrier to prevent external agents, including pathogens, from entering the body. It has a complex and efficient immune surveillance system, which includes Langerhans cells and dendritic cells. By targeting the body's natural defense system, skin-DNA immunization attempts to produce an efficient immune response. Nucleic acid vaccines provide DNA for protein expression in a variety of cells, including keratinocytes, Langerhans cells, and dendritic cells, which are located in the two main areas of the skin, the epidermis (the most superficial layer) and the dermis. After maturation, Langerhans cells and dermal dendritic cells can migrate to local lymph nodes where presentation of antigens to T cells can occur and thus start a variety of immunologic responses. Dermal immunization methods described in this article target the epidermis, the dermis, or both and include: (a) stripping; (b) chemical modification; (c) trans-epidermal immunization (transcutaneous immunization or non-invasive vaccination of the skin); (d) gene gun technology; (e) electroporation; (f) intradermal injections; and (g) microseeding. These techniques all require the removal of hair, the circumvention or modification of the stratum corneum layer of the epidermis, and the addition of DNA or amplification of DNA signal. As the biology of the skin and the mechanisms of DNA vaccination are elucidated, these skin immunization techniques will be optimized. With refinement, skin-DNA immunization will achieve the goal of producing a reliable and efficacious immune response to a variety of pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Animals
  • Dermis / immunology
  • Epidermis / immunology
  • Injections, Intradermal
  • Mice
  • Patch Tests / methods
  • Skin / immunology*
  • Vaccination / methods*
  • Vaccines, DNA / administration & dosage*
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics
  • Vaccines, DNA / immunology


  • Vaccines, DNA