Cantharidin is the vesicating agent of the beetle Canthus vesicatoria. Auspitz described the histopathology of such blisters in 1883,1 and Miescher later confirmed his findings.2 The major changes seen in the epidermis are spongiosis, vesiculation, and acantholysis. In 1926 Borger and Groll stated that cantharides tincture applied to the ears of mice decreased their respiratory rate.3 Little attention was then paid the substance until after 1952, the year of Lever's classic monograph in which he reported acantholysis to be the histologic sine qua non of pemphigus vulgaris.4 The numerous studies of cantharidin acantholysis which followed were facilitated by its successful stereospecific synthesis by Storck et al. in 1951.5
Acantholysis has been produced by other means.6-9 The histologic changes of the cantharidin blister, however, probably more closely resemble sections of pemphigus vulgaris than those produced by other methods. Further, cantharidin is both reliable and simple
WEAKLEY DR, EINBINDER JM. Observations on the Biochemical Genesis of Acantholysis. Arch Dermatol. 1961;84(3):459–466. doi:10.1001/archderm.1961.01580150105017
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