Background: Filaggrin loss-of-function (FLG) mutations are associated with eczema and skin barrier impairment, but it is unclear whether skin barrier impairment precedes phenotypic eczema in FLG mutation carriers.
Objectives: To study the association between FLG mutations, skin barrier impairment and clinical eczema at 3 months of age.
Methods: A total of 88 infants were examined for eczema. Disease severity was determined by the SCORAD eczema severity score. Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was measured on unaffected forearm skin. Venous blood samples were screened for the four most common FLG mutations found in the U.K. white population (R501X, 2282del4, R2447X and S3247X). Median SCORAD and TEWL measurements in children with and without eczema and FLG mutations were compared.
Results: Thirty-three per cent (29/88) of children had clinical eczema. Median SCORAD was 10·6 (range 3·5-31·0). TEWL (g m⁻² h⁻¹) was higher in children with eczema compared with unaffected infants (median TEWL 14·24 vs. 11·24, P < 0·001). Higher TEWL was associated with more severe disease (r = 0·59, P < 0·001, median TEWL, SCORAD < 15, 13·1 vs. 29·6, SCORAD ≥ 15, P = 0·029). Clinically dry skin was associated with higher TEWL, even in the absence of eczema (median TEWL 17·55 vs. 11·08, P = 0·008). Seventeen per cent (15/88) of children carried at least one FLG mutation. FLG mutation carriers were significantly more likely to have clinically dry skin, even in the absence of eczema [odds ratio (OR) 8·50, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1·09-66·58, P = 0·042]. FLG mutation carriers were also more likely to have eczema by 3 months of age (OR 4·26, 95% CI 1·34-13·57, P = 0·014). FLG mutations were significantly associated with higher median TEWL (all children, FLG 'yes' 21·59 vs. FLG 'no' 11·24, P < 0·001), even without clinical eczema (FLG 'yes' 15·99 vs. FLG 'no' 10·82, P = 0·01).
Conclusions: By the age of 3 months, FLG mutations are associated with an eczema phenotype, dry skin and TEWL. The observation that TEWL is elevated in unaffected FLG mutation carriers suggests that skin barrier impairment precedes clinical eczema.