Importance: Molecular profiling of skin biopsies is the criterion standard for evaluating the cutaneous atopic dermatitis (AD) phenotype. However, skin biopsies are not always feasible in children. A reproducible minimally invasive approach that can track cutaneous disease in pediatric longitudinal studies or clinical trials is lacking. Objective: To assess a minimally invasive approach using tape strips to identify skin biomarkers that may serve as a surrogate to biomarkers identified using whole-tissue biopsies. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study of 51 children younger than 5 years recruited children with moderate to severe AD and children without AD from the dermatology outpatient clinics at a children's hospital. Sixteen tape strips were serially collected from the nonlesional and lesional skin of 21 children who had AD and were less than 6 months from disease initiation and from the normal skin of 30 children who did not have AD between January 22, 2016, and April 20, 2018. Main Outcomes and Measures: Gene and protein expression were evaluated using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry. Results: A total of 51 children younger than 5 years were included in the study; 21 children had moderate to severe AD with less than 6 months of disease duration, and 30 children did not have AD. Of the 21 children with AD, the mean (SD) age was 1.7 (1.7) years, and most were male (15 [71.4%] and white (15 [71.4%]). Of the 30 children without AD, the mean (SD) age was 1.8 (2.0) years, and most were female (20 [66.7%]) and white (22 [73.3%]). Seventy-seven of 79 evaluated immune and barrier gene products were detected (gene detection rate, 97%) in 70 of 71 tape strips (sample detection rate, 99%), with 53 of 79 markers differentiating between children with lesional and/or nonlesional AD from children without AD. Many cellular markers of T cells (CD3), AD-related dendritic cells (Fc ϵ RI and OX40 ligand receptors), and key inflammatory (matrix metallopeptidase 12), innate (interleukin 8 [IL-8] and IL-6), helper T cell 2 (TH2; IL-4, IL-13, and chemokines CCL17 and CCL26), and TH17/TH22 (IL-19, IL-36G, and S100A proteins) genes were significantly increased in lesional and nonlesional AD compared with tape strips from normal skin. For example, IL-4 mean (SE) for lesional was -15.2 (0.91) and normal was -19.5 (0.48); P <.001. Parallel decreases occurred in epidermal barrier gene products (FLG, CLDN23, and FA2H) and negative immune regulators (IL-34 and IL-37). For example, the decrease for FLG lesional was mean (SE) -2.9 (0.42) and for normal was 2.2 (0.45); P <.001. Associations were found between disease severity or transepidermal water loss and TH2 (IL-33 and IL-4R) and TH17/TH22 (IL-36G and S100As) products in lesional and nonlesional AD skin (evaluated using the SCORing Atopic Dermatitis, Eczema Area and Severity Index, and Pruritus Atopic Dermatitis Quickscore tools). Conclusions and Relevance: In this study, tape strips provide a minimally invasive alternative for serially evaluating AD-associated cutaneous biomarkers and may prove useful for tracking pediatric AD therapeutic response and predicting future course and comorbidities.
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