- The lack of any information as to the origin of epidermal arachidonic acid, an important precursor of eicosanoids in the epidermis, prompted us to determine in vitro whether or not microsomal preparations from rat and guinea pig epidermis possess the delta 6 and delta 5 desaturase activities. The incubations were performed in parallel with microsomal preparations from liver of these animals where activities for these enzymes have previously been reported. The conversions of radioactive fatty acids were determined after methylation and separation of the 14C-fatty acid methyl esters by argentation thin layer chromatography. Data from these studies demonstrated that delta 5 desaturase activity is markedly lower in guinea pig liver than in rat liver. Interestingly, preparations from rat and guinea pig epidermis at all concentrations tested lacked the capacity to transform either linoleic acid into gammalinolenic acid or dihomogammalinolenic acid into arachidonic acid. This observation implies that arachidonic acid that is present in the epidermal phospholipids is biosynthesized elsewhere endogenously and transported to the epidermis for esterification into the phospholipids. The site of this biosynthesis is presumably the liver and the mode of transport to the epidermis remains to be determined. These studies indicate arachidonic acid per se as an essential fatty acid for the epidermis.