Transcriptional profiling of lactic acid treated reconstructed human epidermis reveals pathways underlying stinging and itch

Toxicol In Vitro. 2019 Jun:57:164-173. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2019.03.005. Epub 2019 Mar 6.


The incidence of sensitive skin with stinging and itch following chemical exposure in products such as cosmetics is increasing, but molecular mechanisms underlying this pathophysiology remain understudied. Here we performed transcriptional analysis of reconstructed human epidermis (RHE) 1, 6, and 24 h following topical lactic acid (LA) application, a known inducer of the sensitive skin reaction. Since little is known about the specific role of keratinocyte transcriptional changes in mediating stinging and itch, we performed pathway analysis using several publically available databases and then focused on significantly changed transcripts involved in stress responses and itch signaling using the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database. LA treatment induced damage-associated genes HSPA1A, DDIT3, IL1A, and HMGB2. Neurotrophic factors including BDNF, ARTN, PGE2, and chemokines were also upregulated. Stimulation of the RHE with 5% LA did not reduce cell viability, but reduced the trans-epidermal electric resistance, suggesting barrier dysfunction. Accordingly, skin barrier formation genes such as filaggrins (FLG, FLG2) and corneodesmosin (CDSN) were downregulated. To our knowledge, this is the first study focusing on transcriptional changes underlying the stinging response of keratinocytes upon LA stimulation. While follow-up research is needed, this study provides new insight into the mechanisms underlying the sensitive skin reaction.

Keywords: Cosmetics; Itch; Keratinocyte; Lactic acid; Sensitive skin.

MeSH terms

  • Epidermis / drug effects*
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • Humans
  • Irritants / toxicity*
  • Lactic Acid / toxicity*
  • Pruritus / genetics*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects*


  • FLG protein, human
  • FLG2 protein, human
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • Irritants
  • Lactic Acid