Nanostructure of the epidermal extracellular space as observed by cryo-electron microscopy of vitreous sections of human skin

Al-Amoudi, A.; Dubochet, J.; Norlén, L.


The newly developed method, cryo-electron microscopy of vitreous sections, was used to observe the nanostructure of the epidermal extracellular space. The data were obtained from vitreous sections of freshly taken, fully hydrated, non-cryo-protected human skin. The extracellular space of viable epidermis contains desmosomes, expressing a characteristic extracellular transverse ∼5 nm periodicity, interconnected by a relatively electron lucent inter-desmosomal space. The extracellular space between viable and cornified epidermis contains transition desmosomes at different stages of reorganization interconnected by widened areas expressing a rich variety of complex membrane-like structures. The extracellular space of cornified epidermis contains ∼9, ∼14, ∼25, ∼33, ∼39, ∼44, and ∼48 nm thick regions in turn containing one, two, four, six, eight, eight, and ten parallel electron-dense lines, respectively, between adjacent corneocyte lipid envelopes. The eight-line ∼44 nm thick regions are most prevalent.