Irritating effects of sodium lauryl sulfate on human primary keratinocytes at subtoxic levels of exposure

Microsc Res Tech. 2018 Nov;81(11):1339-1346. doi: 10.1002/jemt.23143. Epub 2018 Oct 8.


Chemical agents that can potentially cause skin irritation are typically tested in animal models or in vitro assays of cell viability or cytokine expression. However, these methods do not always provide translatable results and are not sufficiently sensitive for subtoxicity detection. Here, we introduce the mechanical properties of keratinocytes as novel endpoints for the safety assessment of chemical agents at the subtoxicity level. Human primary keratinocytes were treated with various concentrations of sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and their biological properties (proliferation, membrane integrity, inflammatory response, and morphology) were observed. Their biomechanical and geometrical parameters (stiffness and surface roughness) were also investigated by atomic force microscopy. Keratinocyte morphophysiological changes and inflammatory responses were significant at ≥25 μM SLS. The keratinocytes became less stiff due to changes in the distribution of F-actin filaments and α-tubulin; these changes were significant even at lower doses of SLS (≤10 μM). The morphophysiological changes of keratinocytes were clearly seen at a relatively high dose of SLS, while the mechanical properties of keratinocytes responded linearly to SLS at lower doses. Therefore, changes in mechanical properties can be used as new endpoints for in vitro toxicity testing with keratinocytes.

Keywords: atomic force microscopy; human primary keratinocyte; irritants; mechanical properties; safety assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Irritants / toxicity*
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin Irritancy Tests
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate / toxicity*
  • Surface-Active Agents / toxicity*


  • Cytokines
  • Irritants
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate