Deletion of the epidermal water/glycerol transporter aquaporin-3 (AQP3) in mice reduced superficial skin conductance by ∼2-fold (Ma, T., Hara, M., Sougrat, R., Verbavatz, J. M., and Verkman, A. S. (2002) J. Biol. Chem. 277, 17147-17153), suggesting defective stratum corneum (SC) hydration. Here, we demonstrate significant impairment of skin hydration, elasticity, barrier recovery, and wound healing in AQP3 null mice in a hairless (SKH1) genetic background and investigate the cause of the functional defects by analysis of SC morphology and composition. Utilizing a novel 3H2O distribution method, SC water content was reduced by ∼50% in AQP3 null mice. Skin elasticity measured by cutometry was significantly reduced in AQP3 null mice with ∼50% reductions in elasticity parameters Uf, Ue, and Ur. Although basal skin barrier function was not impaired, AQP3 deletion produced an ∼2-fold delay in recovery of barrier function as measured by transepidermal water loss after tape stripping. Another biosynthetic skin function, wound healing, was also ∼2-fold delayed by AQP3 deletion. By electron microscopy AQP3 deletion did not affect the structure of the unperturbed SC. The SC content of ions (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+) and small solutes (urea, lactic acid, glucose) was not affected by AQP3 deletion nor was the absolute amount or profile of lipids and free amino acids. However, AQP3 deletion produced significant reductions in glycerol content in SC and epidermis (in nmol/μg protein: 5.5 ± 0.4 versus 2.3 ± 0.7 in SC; 0.037 ± 0.007 versus 0.022 ± 0.005 in epidermis) but not in dermis or blood. These results establish hydration, mechanical, and biosynthetic defects in skin of AQP3-deficient mice. The selective reduction in epidermal and SC glycerol content in AQP3 null mice may account for these defects, providing the first functional evidence for physiologically important glycerol transport by an aquaporin.
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