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Am J Pathol. 2001 Mar;158(3):931-42.

Inhibition of type I procollagen synthesis by damaged collagen in photoaged skin and by collagenase-degraded collagen in vitro.

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Department of Pathology, The University of Michigan Medical School, 1301 Catherine Rd./Box 0602, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Type I and type III procollagen are reduced in photodamaged human skin. This reduction could result from increased degradation by metalloproteinases and/or from reduced procollagen synthesis. In the present study, we investigated type I procollagen production in photodamaged and sun-protected human skin. Skin samples from severely sun-damaged forearm skin and matched sun-protected hip skin from the same individuals were assessed for type I procollagen gene expression by in situ hybridization and for type I procollagen protein by immunostaining. Both mRNA and protein were reduced ( approximately 65 and 57%, respectively) in photodamaged forearm skin compared to sun-protected hip skin. We next investigated whether reduced type I procollagen production was because of inherently reduced capacity of skin fibroblasts in severely photodamaged forearm skin to synthesize procollagen, or whether contextual influences within photodamaged skin act to down-regulate type I procollagen synthesis. For these studies, fibroblasts from photodamaged skin and matched sun-protected skin were established in culture. Equivalent numbers of fibroblasts were isolated from the two skin sites. Fibroblasts from the two sites had similar growth capacities and produced virtually identical amounts of type I procollagen protein. These findings indicate that the lack of type I procollagen synthesis in sun-damaged skin is not because of irreversible damage to fibroblast collagen-synthetic capacity. It follows, therefore, that factors within the severely photodamaged skin may act in some manner to inhibit procollagen production by cells that are inherently capable of doing so. Interactions between fibroblasts and the collagenous extracellular matrix regulate type I procollagen synthesis. In sun-protected skin, collagen fibrils exist as a highly organized matrix. Fibroblasts are found within the matrix, in close apposition with collagen fibers. In photodamaged skin, collagen fibrils are shortened, thinned, and disorganized. The level of partially degraded collagen is approximately 3.6-fold greater in photodamaged skin than in sun-protected skin, and some fibroblasts are surrounded by debris. To model this situation, skin fibroblasts were cultured in vitro on intact collagen or on collagen that had been partially degraded by exposure to collagenolytic enzymes. Collagen that had been partially degraded by exposure to collagenolytic enzymes from either bacteria or human skin underwent contraction in the presence of dermal fibroblasts, whereas intact collagen did not. Fibroblasts cultured on collagen that had been exposed to either source of collagenolytic enzyme demonstrated reduced proliferative capacity (22 and 17% reduction on collagen degraded by bacterial collagenase or human skin collagenase, respectively) and synthesized less type I procollagen (36 and 88% reduction, respectively, on a per cell basis). Taken together, these findings indicate that 1) fibroblasts from photoaged and sun-protected skin are similar in their capacities for growth and type I procollagen production; and 2) the accumulation of partially degraded collagen observed in photodamaged skin may inhibit, by an as yet unidentified mechanism, type I procollagen synthesis.

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