The skin barrier function is greatly dependent on the structure and composition of the uppermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum (SC), which is made up of flattened anucleated cells surrounded by highly organized and continuous lipid matrix. The interior of the corneocytes consists mainly of keratin filaments aggregated by filaggrin (FLG) protein. Next, together with several other proteins, FLG is cross-linked into a mechanically robust cornified cell envelope providing a scaffold for the extracellular lipid matrix. In addition to its role for the SC structural and mechanical integrity, FLG degradation products account in part for the water-holding capacity and maintenance of acidic pH of the SC, both crucial for the epidermal barrier homoeostasis by regulating activity of multiple enzymes that control desquamation, lipid synthesis and inflammation. The major determinant of FLG expression in the skin are loss-of-function mutations in FLG, the strongest genetic risk factor for atopic dermatitis (AD), an inflammatory skin disease characterized by a reduced skin barrier function. The prevalence of FLG mutations varies greatly among different populations and ranges from about 10% in Northern Europeans to less than 1% in the African populations. An impaired skin barrier facilitates absorption of potentially hazardous chemicals, which might cause adverse effects in the skin, such as contact dermatitis, or systemic toxicity after their passage into blood. In another direction, a leaky epidermal barrier will lead to enhanced loss of water from the skin. A recent study has shown that even subtle increase in epidermal water loss in newborns increases the risk for AD. Although there are multiple modes of action by which FLG might affect skin barrier it is still unclear whether and how FLG deficiency leads to the reduced skin barrier function. This chapter summarizes the current knowledge in this field obtained from clinical studies, and animal and in vitro models of FLG deficiency.
© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.