Skin barrier lipid enzyme activity in Netherton patients is associated with protease activity and ceramide abnormalities.

van Smeden J, Al-Khakany H, Wang Y, Visscher D, Stephens N, Absalah S, Overkleeft HS, Aerts JMFG, Hovnanian A, Bouwstra JA

Individuals with Netherton syndrome (NTS) have increased serine protease activity, which strongly impacts the barrier function of the skin epidermis and leads to skin inflammation. Here, we investigated how serine protease activity in NTS correlates with changes in the stratum corneum ceramides, which are crucial components of the skin barrier. We examined two key enzymes involved in epidermal ceramide biosynthesis, glucocerebrosidase (GBA) and acid-sphingomyelinase (ASM). We compared expression levels and activities of GBA and ASM between NTS patients and controls and correlated the expression and activities with i) stratum corneum ceramide profiles, ii) serine protease activity, and iii) clinical presentation of patients. Using activity-based probe labeling, we visualized and localized active, epidermal GBA, and a newly developed zymography method enabled us to visualize and localize active ASM. Reduction in active GBA in NTS patients coincided with increased ASM activity, particularly in areas with increased serine protease activity. NTS patients with scaly erythroderma exhibited more pronounced anomalies in GBA and ASM activities than patients with ichthyosis linearis circumflexa. They also displayed a stronger increase in stratum corneum ceramides processed via ASM. We conclude that changes in the localization of active GBA and ASM correlate with i) altered stratum corneum ceramide composition in NTS patients, ii) local serine protease activity, and iii) the clinical manifestation of NTS.