Glycerol Improves Skin Lesion Development in the Imiquimod Mouse Model of Psoriasis: Experimental Confirmation of Anecdotal Reports from Patients with Psoriasis

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Aug 15;22(16):8749. doi: 10.3390/ijms22168749.


Glycerol is used in many skin care products because it improves skin function. Anecdotal reports by patients on the National Psoriasis Foundation website also suggest that glycerol may be helpful for the treatment of psoriasis, although to date no experimental data confirm this idea. Glycerol entry into epidermal keratinocytes is facilitated by aquaglyceroporins like aquaporin-3 (AQP3), and its conversion to phosphatidylglycerol, a lipid messenger that promotes keratinocyte differentiation, requires the lipid-metabolizing enzyme phospholipase-D2 (PLD2). To evaluate whether glycerol inhibits inflammation and psoriasiform lesion development in the imiquimod (IMQ)-induced mouse model of psoriasis, glycerol's effect on psoriasiform skin lesions was determined in IMQ-treated wild-type and PLD2 knockout mice, with glycerol provided either in drinking water or applied topically. Psoriasis area and severity index, ear thickness and ear biopsy weight, epidermal thickness, and inflammatory markers were quantified. Topical and oral glycerol ameliorated psoriasiform lesion development in wild-type mice. Topical glycerol appeared to act as an emollient to induce beneficial effects, since even in PLD2 knockout mice topical glycerol application improved skin lesions. In contrast, the beneficial effects of oral glycerol required PLD2, with no improvement in psoriasiform lesions observed in PLD2 knockout mice. Our findings suggest that the ability of oral glycerol to improve psoriasiform lesions requires its PLD2-mediated conversion to phosphatidylglycerol, consistent with our previous report that phosphatidylglycerol itself improves psoriasiform lesions in this model. Our data also support anecdotal evidence that glycerol can ameliorate psoriasis symptoms and therefore might be a useful therapy alone or in conjunction with other treatments.

Keywords: aquaporin-3 (AQP3); epidermis; glycerol; imiquimod (IMQ); keratinocytes; phospholipase D2 (PLD2); psoriasis; skin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaporin 3 / genetics
  • Aquaporin 3 / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glycerol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Imiquimod / adverse effects*
  • Imiquimod / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phospholipase D / deficiency
  • Phospholipase D / metabolism
  • Psoriasis / chemically induced
  • Psoriasis / drug therapy*
  • Psoriasis / genetics
  • Psoriasis / metabolism
  • Skin / metabolism*


  • Aqp3 protein, mouse
  • Aquaporin 3
  • phospholipase D2
  • Phospholipase D
  • Imiquimod
  • Glycerol