The multifunctional role of ectoine as a natural cell protectant

Clin Dermatol. 2008 Jul-Aug;26(4):326-33. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2008.01.002.


The protective properties of ectoine, formerly described for only extremophilic microorganisms, can be transferred to human skin. Our present data show that the compatible solute ectoine protects the cellular membrane from damage caused by surfactants. Transepidermal water loss measurements in vivo suggest that the barrier function of the skin is strengthened after the topical application of an oil in water emulsion containing ectoine. Ectoine functions as a superior moisturizer with long-term efficacy. These findings indicating that ectoine is a strong water structure-forming solute are explained in silico by means of molecular dynamic simulations. Spherical clusters containing (1) water, (2) water with ectoine, and (3) water with glycerol are created as model systems. The stronger the water-binding activity of the solute, the greater the quantity of water molecules remaining in the cluster at high temperatures. Water clusters around ectoine molecules remain stable for a long period of time, whereas mixtures of water and glycerol break down and water molecules diffuse out of the spheres. On the basis of these findings, we suggest that the hydrogen bond properties of solutes are not solely responsible for maintaining the water structure form. Moreover, the particular electrostatic potential of ectoine as an amphoteric molecule with zwitterionic character is the major cause for its strong affinity to water. Because of its outstanding water-binding activity, ectoine might be especially useful in preventing water loss in dry atopic skin and in recovering skin viability and preventing skin aging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Diamino / pharmacokinetics
  • Amino Acids, Diamino / pharmacology*
  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Humans
  • Protective Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Protective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Skin / cytology*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Water Loss, Insensible / drug effects*


  • Amino Acids, Diamino
  • Protective Agents
  • ectoine