Integrity and barrier function of the epidermis critically depend on glucosylceramide synthesis

J Biol Chem. 2007 Feb 2;282(5):3083-94. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M610304200. Epub 2006 Dec 4.


Ceramides are vital components of the water barrier in mammalian skin. Epidermis-specific, a major ceramide portion contains omega-hydroxy very long chain fatty acids (C30-C36). These omega-hydroxy ceramides (Cers) are found in the extracellular lamellae of the stratum corneum either as linoleic acyl esters or protein bound. Glucosylceramide is the major glycosphingolipid of the epidermis. Synthesized from ceramide and UDP-glucose, it is thought to be itself an intracellular precursor and carrier for extracellular omega-hydroxy ceramides. To investigate whether GlcCer is an obligatory intermediate in ceramide metabolism to maintain epidermal barrier function, a mouse with an epidermis-specific glucosylceramide synthase (Ugcg) deficiency has been generated. Four days after birth animals devoid of GlcCer synthesis in keratinocytes showed a pronounced desquamation of the stratum corneum and extreme transepidermal water loss leading to death. The stratum corneum appeared as a thick unstructured mass. Lamellar bodies of the stratum granulosum did not display the usual ordered inner structure and were often irregularly arranged. Although the total amount of epidermal protein-bound ceramides remained unchanged, epidermal-free omega-hydroxy ceramides increased 4-fold and omega-hydroxy sphingomyelins, almost not detectable in wild type epidermis, emerged in quantities comparable with lost GlcCer. We conclude that the transient formation of GlcCer is vital for a regular arrangement of lipids and proteins in lamellar bodies and for the maintenance of the epidermal barrier.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Epidermis / enzymology
  • Epidermis / physiology*
  • Exons
  • Genotype
  • Glucosylceramides / biosynthesis*
  • Glucosyltransferases / deficiency
  • Glucosyltransferases / genetics*
  • Glucosyltransferases / metabolism
  • Lipids / isolation & purification
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / isolation & purification
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena


  • Glucosylceramides
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • ceramide glucosyltransferase