Formaldehyde-induced aggravation of pruritus and dermatitis is associated with the elevated expression of Th1 cytokines in a rat model of atopic dermatitis

Rafael Taeho Han, Seung Keun Back, Hyunkyoung Lee, Jae Hee Lee, Hye Young Kim, Hee Jin Kim, Heung Sik Na

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Atopic dermatitis is a complex disease of heterogeneous pathogenesis, in particular, genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and their interactions. Indoor air pollution, increasing with urbanization, plays a role as environmental risk factor in the development of AD. However, we still lack a detailed picture of the role of air pollution in the development of the disease. Here, we examined the effect of formaldehyde (FA) exposure on the manifestation of atopic dermatitis and the underlying molecular mechanism in naive rats and in a rat model of atopic dermatitis (AD) produced by neonatal capsaicin treatment. The AD and naive rats were exposed to 0.8 ppm FA, 1.2 ppm FA, or fresh air (Air) for 6 weeks (2 hours/day and 5 days/week). So, six groups, namely the 1.2 FA-AD, 0.8 FA-AD, Air-AD, 1.2 FA-naive, 0.8 FA-naive and Air-naive groups, were established. Pruritus and dermatitis, two major symptoms of atopic dermatitis, were evaluated every week for 6 weeks. After that, samples of the blood, the skin and the thymus were collected from the 1.2 FA-AD, the Air-AD, the 1.2 FAnaive and the Air-naive groups. Serum IgE levels were quantified with ELISA, and mRNA expression levels of inflammatory cytokines from extracts of the skin and the thymus were calculated with qRT-PCR. The dermatitis and pruritus significantly worsened in 1.2 FA-AD group, but not in 0.8 FA-AD, compared to the Air-AD animals, whereas FA didn't induce any symptoms in naive rats. Consistently, the levels of serum IgE were significantly higher in 1.2 FA-AD than in air-AD, however, there was no significant difference following FA exposure in naive animals. In the skin, mRNA expression levels of Th1 cytokines such as TNF-α and IL- 1β were significantly higher in the 1.2 FA-AD rats compared to the air-AD rats, whereas mRNA expression levels of Th2 cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, IL-13), IL-17A and TSLP were significantly higher in 1.2 FA-naive group than in the Air-naive group. These results suggested that 1.2 ppm of FA penetrated the injured skin barrier, and exacerbated Th1 responses and serum IgE level in the AD rats so that dermatitis and pruritus were aggravated, while the elevated expression of Th2 cytokines by 1.2 ppm of FA in naive rats was probably insufficient for clinical manifestation. In conclusion, in a rat model of atopic dermatitis, exposure to 1.2 ppm of FA aggravated pruritus and skin inflammation, which was associated with the elevated expression of Th1 cytokines.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0168466
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Research Foundation of Korea, Recipient: Heung Sik Na, , NRF-2015M3C8A5060108; and The Chung Yang, Cha Young Sun, M.D. and Jang Hi Joo Yeu Sa Memorial Fund, Recipient: Heung Sik Na, No URL, No grant numbers.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2016 Han et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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