Background: Patients with atopic dermatitis (AD) are well known to be sensitive to irritation from the environment due to the impaired function of the stratum corneum (SC). Electrical current perception threshold (CPT) evaluation quantifies the sensory threshold to transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the sensory nerves. Objective: To study the CPT in a noninvasive fashion using Neurometer® CPT/C, together with measurements of various functions of the SC. Methods: We measured the CPT on the flexor forearm and cheek of AD patients and normal individuals. Subsequently, we evaluated the CPT and skin sensitivity to a 30% aqueous solution of lactic acid after the infliction of various mildly disruptive measures on the SC on the flexor forearm of healthy individuals by the following three methods: (1) removal of the superficial sebum with acetone/ether, (2) scarification with a needle and (3) tape stripping of the SC. Finally, we examined the effect of topical applications of emollients such as petrolatum or a moisturizing cream to the scratched skin. Results: AD patients showed a lower barrier function and lower CPT than normal individuals. In subsequent studies conducted in normal individuals, the CPT was found to be inversely correlated with transepidermal water loss (TEWL) levels after tape stripping. However, most of all, the partial superficial scarification with a needle decreased the CPT and increased the lactic acid stinging response. Prolonged removal of lipids from the SC with acetone/ether for 30 min that increased the TEWL levels for only 1 day decreased the high-frequency conductance value for 2 days and the CPT only on the 2nd day after treatment. Topical applications of emollients were effective to prevent the increased sensitivity caused by scratching. Conclusions: AD patients showed functional abnormalities of the SC and tended to have more sensitive skin on the cheek and flexor forearm than healthy controls. Even focal SC damage caused by superficial cracking may lead to further disruption of the already damaged SC in AD patients, by eliciting scratching and facilitating the permeation of various environmental allergens and also the induction of hypersensitive skin.

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