Centre for Inflammation Research

Skin’s own defences point towards new eczema therapies

October 2016: The body’s own natural defences could be harnessed in a potential therapy for a common skin condition

The discovery may help create new treatments for atopic eczema, which affects around one in five children and one in 20 adults in the UK. Also called atopic dermatitis or AD, the condition causes distressing itchy lesions that can lead to broken skin with increased susceptibility to infection. It can have a severe impact on people’s lives, work and sleep.

The discovery follows recent studies that show having an intact natural skin barrier is important in preventing eczema. Now, researchers have found a way to use the body’s own defence system to repair tiny breaks in the skin’s natural barrier, which make people more vulnerable to eczema. The skin’s barrier can be impaired by genetic flaws, environmental factors or bacterial infections. People with eczema are much more likely to carry bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus on their skins. In people with eczema, this bacterium can infect skin lesions and cause damage to the skin barrier.

Video showing bacterial products breaking down laboratory-grown skin, creating holes in the barrier.

Researchers at the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at The University of Edinburgh have discovered that skin cells can be instructed to produce a naturally occurring protective compound. This substance – called human beta-d

efensin 2 (hBD2) – is known to kill bacteria, but the study found it is also vital in preventing damage to the skin barrier caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Individuals with eczema typically do not turn on production of hBD2 in their damaged skin lesions. The researchers found that when hBD2 was applied to skin cells grown in the lab, it helped the skin to remain intact, with the cells strengthening protection against the bacterial damage like reinforcing mortar between the bricks in a wall. Their findings could lead to new therapies to prevent or treat eczema. Conventional treatment with steroid creams can have side-effects, and become less effective over time.

The study is published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council and China Scholarship Council.

Wang B, McHugh BJ, Qureshi A, Campopiano DJ, Clarke DJ, Fitzgerald JR, Dorin JR, Weller R, Davidson DJ. (2016) IL-1β-Induced Protection of Keratinocytes against Staphylococcus aureus-Secreted Proteases Is Mediated by Human β-Defensin 2. J Invest Dermatol. S0022-202X(16)32369-7. [Epub ahead of print]

doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.08.025. PMID: 27702565

Published paper in Journal of Investigative Dermatology (PubMed website)

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