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Am J Pathol. 1994 Jul;145(1):105-13.

Morphological and immunochemical differences between keloid and hypertrophic scar.

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Department of Surgery, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania.


There are two types of excessive scarring, keloid and hypertrophic scar. Contrary to hypertrophic scars, keloids do not regress with time, are difficult to revise surgically, and do not provoke scar contractures. These two lesions require different therapeutic approaches but are often confused because of an apparent lack of morphological differences. We have investigated the collagen organization and the possible presence of alpha-smooth muscle (SM) actin-expressing myofibroblasts in these conditions. Keloids contain large, thick collagen fibers composed of numerous fibrils closely packed together. In contrast hypertrophic scars exhibit modular structures in which fibroblastic cells, small vessels, and fine, randomly organized collagen fibers are present. We confirm that such nodular structures are always present in hypertrophic scar and rarely in keloid. Furthermore, only nodules of hypertrophic scars contain alpha-SM actin-expressing myofibroblasts. Electron microscopic examination supports the above-mentioned differences in collagen organization and in fibroblastic features and shows the presence of an amorphous extracellular material surrounding fibroblastic cells in keloid. The presence in hypertrophic scar myofibroblasts of alpha-SM actin, the actin isoform typical of vascular SM cells, may represent an important element in the pathogenesis of contraction. Interestingly, when placed in culture fibroblasts from hypertrophic scars and keloid express similar amounts of alpha-SM actin, suggesting that local microenvironmental factors influence in vivo the expression of this protein. Thus several morphological and immunohistochemical differences exist between hypertrophic scar and keloid that are useful for the biological and pathological characterization of the two lesions.

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