Skin barrier immunity and ageing

Immunology. 2020 Jun;160(2):116-125. doi: 10.1111/imm.13152. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


The skin is the outermost layer of the body with an extensive surface area of approximately 1·8 m2 , and is the first line of defence against a multitude of external pathogens and environmental insults. The skin also has important homeostatic functions such as reducing water loss and contributing to thermoregulation of the body. The structure of the skin and its cellular composition work in harmony to prevent infections and to deal with physical and chemical challenges from the outside world. In this review, we discuss how the structural cells such as keratinocytes, fibroblasts and adipocytes contribute to barrier immunity. We also discuss specialized immune cells that are resident in steady-state skin including mononuclear phagocytes, such as Langerhans cells, dermal macrophages and dermal dendritic cells in addition to the resident memory T cells. Ageing results in an increased incidence of cancer and skin infections. As we age, the skin structure changes with thinning of the epidermis and dermis, increased water loss, and fragmentation of collagen and elastin. In addition, the skin immune composition is altered with reduced Langerhans cells, decreased antigen-specific immunity and increased regulatory populations such as Foxp3+ regulatory T cells. Together, these alterations result in decreased barrier immunity in the elderly, explaining in part their increased susceptiblity to cancer and infections.

Keywords: ageing; immunosenescence; skin; tissue resident.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / immunology
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Fibroblasts / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Incidence
  • Keratinocytes / immunology
  • Langerhans Cells / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Microbiota / immunology
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / immunology*
  • Skin / microbiology
  • Skin Diseases, Infectious / epidemiology
  • Skin Diseases, Infectious / immunology*
  • Skin Diseases, Infectious / microbiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Water Loss, Insensible / immunology