Send to

Choose Destination
J Surg Res. 1999 Nov;87(1):134-41.

Transient exposure to tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibits collagen accumulation by cultured hypertrophic scar fibroblasts.

Author information

Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.



Hypertrophic scars (HS) are frequent consequences of deep dermal injury, such as deep partial-thickness burns and abrasions, and are characterized by overproduction of collagen. In vitro studies have shown that cultured HS fibroblasts produce elevated levels of collagen and insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3). Additionally, histological studies have indicated HS contain fewer tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha)-positive infiltrating cells and express lower levels of TNF-alpha mRNA, suggesting TNF-alpha, which can inhibit collagen expression in some systems, may function to deactivate the wound healing process in scars. HS also exhibit increased levels of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), a factor that stimulates collagen and extracellular matrix deposition by fibroblasts and also stimulates IGFBP-3 expression. In some systems, IGFBP-3 mediates the effects of TGF-beta. The present study sought to determine the effects of continuous and transient TNF-alpha exposure on collagen and IGFBP-3 expression by cultured HS fibroblasts and to investigate the role of IGFBP-3 in collagen accretion by HS fibroblasts.


Superficial and deep dermal HS fibroblasts from four patients were cultured. Fibroblasts were cultured in serum-free medium and exposed to 0-2 ng/ml TNF-alpha for 0, 1, 4, or 72 h. After 72 h of culture, medium samples were processed for Western blot analysis of type I collagen accumulation or for ligand blot analysis of IGFBP-3 accumulation. The effects of an anti-IGFBP-3 neutralizing antibody on collagen accumulation were also assessed.


Treatment of superficial and deep HS fibroblasts with TNF-alpha resulted in dose-dependent decreases in accumulation of both type I collagen and IGFBP-3 in the culture medium (P < 0.01). However, using the anti-IGFBP-3 neutralizing antibody, a causal relationship between decreased IGFBP-3 and decreased collagen accumulation could not be demonstrated. Transient exposure of cultured HS fibroblasts to TNF-alpha for as little as 1 h was as effective as continuous exposure to TNF-alpha for 72 h in inhibiting collagen accumulation.


These results support the hypothesis that TNF-alpha functions as a wound healing deactivation signal that is deficient in HS. Although TNF-alpha inhibited accretion of both collagen and IGFBP-3, the role of IGFBP-3 in HS remains unresolved. This study suggests that transient TNF-alpha exposure may be used to inhibit collagen overaccumulation in HS and that the timing of TNF-alpha exposure following dermal injury may not be critical for this inhibition.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center