Staphylococcus aureus Exploits Epidermal Barrier Defects in Atopic Dermatitis to Trigger Cytokine Expression

J Invest Dermatol. 2016 Nov;136(11):2192-2200. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.05.127. Epub 2016 Jul 2.


Patients with atopic dermatitis (AD) have an abnormal skin barrier and are frequently colonized by S. aureus. In this study we investigated if S. aureus penetrates the epidermal barrier of subjects with AD and sought to understand the mechanism and functional significance of this entry. S. aureus was observed to be more abundant in the dermis of lesional skin from AD patients. Bacterial entry past the epidermis was observed in cultured human skin equivalents and in mice but was found to be increased in the skin of cathelicidin knockout and ovalbumin-sensitized filaggrin mutant mice. S. aureus penetration through the epidermis was dependent on bacterial viability and protease activity, because killed bacteria and a protease-null mutant strain of S. aureus were unable to penetrate. Entry of S. aureus directly correlated with increased expression of IL-4, IL-13, IL-22, thymic stromal lymphopoietin, and other cytokines associated with AD and with decreased expression of cathelicidin. These data illustrate how abnormalities of the epidermal barrier in AD can alter the balance of S. aureus entry into the dermis and provide an explanation for how such dermal dysbiosis results in increased inflammatory cytokines and exacerbation of disease.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • DNA / genetics
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / microbiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / pathology
  • Epidermis / immunology
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Epidermis / pathology
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Signal Transduction
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Cytokines
  • FLG protein, human
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • DNA