We have previously shown that human epidermal keratinocytes express a functionally active μ-opiate receptor, which adds a new dimension to the recently developed research in neuroimmunodermatology and neurogenic inflammation in skin diseases. Human keratinocytes specifically bind and also produce β-endorphin, the endogenous μ-opiate receptor ligand. Using confocal imaging microscopy, we could now demonstrate that μ-opiate receptors are not only expressed in keratinocytes, but also on unmyelinated peripheral nerve fibers in the dermis and epidermis. Some of the peripheral nerve fibers also express the ligand β-endorphin. The keratinocytes positive for β-endorphin staining are clustered around the terminal ends of the unmyelinated nerve fibers. Therefore the opiate receptor system seems to be crucial in the direct communication between nerves and skin. The keratinocytes can influence the unmyelinated nerve fibers in the epidermis directly via secreting β-endorphin. On the other hand, nerve fibers can also secrete β-endorphin and influence the migration, differentiation and probably also the cytokine production pattern of keratinocytes.
- Epidermis, human
- Nonmyelinated terminal nerve fibers
- μ-Opiate receptor