Introduction: In contrast to muscle and subcutaneous tissue, the skin is easily accessible and provides unique immunological properties. Increasing knowledge about the complex interplay of skin-associated cell types in the development of cutaneous immune responses has fueled efforts to target the skin for vaccination as well as for immunotherapy.
Areas covered: This review provides an overview on skin layers and their resident immunocompetent cell types. Advantages and shortcomings of standard methods and innovative technologies to circumvent the outermost skin barrier are addressed. Studies employing fractional skin ablation by infrared lasers for cutaneous delivery of drugs, as well as high molecular weight molecules such as protein antigens or antibodies, are reviewed, and laserporation is introduced as a versatile transcutaneous vaccination platform. Specific targeting of the epidermis or the dermis by different laser settings, the resulting kinetics of uptake and transport and the immune response types elicited are discussed, and the potential of this transcutaneous delivery platform for allergen-specific immunotherapy is demonstrated.
Expert opinion: Needle-free and painless vaccination approaches have the potential to replace standard methods due to their improved safety and optimal patient compliance. The use of fractional laser devices for stepwise ablation of skin layers might be advantageous for both vaccination against microbial pathogens, as well as immunotherapeutic approaches, such as allergen-specific immunotherapy. Thorough investigation of the underlying immunological mechanisms will help to provide the knowledge for a rational design of transcutaneous protective/therapeutic vaccines.