Previous studies have demonstrated that permeability barrier disruption by acetone treatment significantly enhances skin permeability to both hydrophilic and amphipathic compounds, but not to highly lipophilic compounds. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the dependence of permeability on molecular weight (MW) in acetone-disrupted hairless mouse skin in contrast to normal skin. Penetration of polyethylene glycol (PEG) 300, 600, and 1000 over 12 h was measured using diffusion cells. High-performance liquid chromatographic methods with refractive index detection were used to separate and quantitate the individual oligomeric species in the PEG samples. Percutaneous penetration of PEGs exhibited slightly steeper MW dependency at a transepidermal water loss (TEWL) of 30-41 g/m2 per h in comparison with TEWLs of 0-10 (control skin), 10-20, and 20-30 g/m2 per h, with a higher percentage of smaller oligomer PEGs penetrating than larger ones. Increasing the TEWL of the skin increased the penetration of all the PEG oligomers, and the degree of the enhancement relative to penetration through control skin increased with MW and was maximal for oligomers with a MW ranging from 326 to 414 Da. Within the limit of quantitation of the assay, the MW cut-off for PEG penetration across mouse skin with TEWLs of 0-10, 10-20, and 20-30 g/m2 per h was 414, 590, and 942 Da, respectively, while all the measurable oligomers up to MW 1074 Da were able to penetrate skin with TEWLs in the range 30-41 g/m2 per h. The results suggest that not only higher amounts but also more varieties of chemicals may penetrate skin with a compromised barrier than normal skin, implying a higher risk of intoxication and hypersensitization by environmental agents through diseased skin with impaired barrier function.
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