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J Anat. Aug 1995; 187(Pt 1): 1–26.
PMCID: PMC1167345

The effects of ageing on cutaneous wound healing in mammals.

Abstract

The dogma that cutaneous wound healing is impaired as a function of age is largely unsubstantiated. This can be attributed to poor experimental design of human studies, the lack of subject characterisation with the exclusion of disease processes, and the study of inappropriate animal models. Structural and functional changes in skin with age have been reported, such as a decrease in dermal thickness, decline in collagen content, a subtle alteration in the glycosaminoglycan profile, and a loss of elasticity, but these reports are subject to the above criticisms in addition to the often-neglected requirement for site specificity. Wound repair can be thought of as a culmination of three major overlapping phases: inflammation, proliferation and remodelling. The inflammatory process has not been studied systematically with respect to age, and despite a reported decline in cellular function and number, there is a confounding increase in the production of specific cytokines involved in the process of repair. The proliferative phase is associated with a loss of cellular responsiveness to specific cytokines with a decline in motility and proliferation; however caution in interpreting these findings is important as, for example, the definition of 'ageing' is used rather loosely with the result that neonatal versus young adult cells are compared instead of young versus old adults. During remodelling, fibronectin and collagen production may increase with age, as may wound contraction; the deposition of elastin has not been assessed and the resulting mechanical properties of the scar are controversial, not least because human in vivo studies have been ignored. The absence of a critical review on the effects of advancing age on wound healing has conspired to permit the perpetuation of the belief that well defined tenets exist. This review aims to redress this imbalance and to highlight the need for well designed research into an increasingly important field.

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