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Br J Dermatol. 1997 Nov;137(5):728-35.

Silver aids healing in the sterile skin wound: experimental studies in the laboratory rat.

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Department of Comparative Biology, Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, London, U.K.


Incisional wounds 15 mm long were induced surgically in the back skin of young adult Wistar rats. They were sutured and used as an experimental model in the therapeutic evaluation of daily applications of 0.5 mL of silver nitrate (SN) at 0.01, 0.1 or 1.0% w/v aqueous solution, or 0.5 g silver sulphadiazine (SSD) over a 10-day period. Control wounds received deionized water only. The silver preparations were not toxic but SN did stain the hair and superficial layers of the stratum corneum. The wounds remained microbiologically clean. Wounds exposed to SN (0.1 or 1.0%) or SSD healed more rapidly than controls. From about the fourth day of treatment, we noted a more rapid exteriorization of sutures, improved wound closure and an earlier loss of scabs and wound debris. Silver treatment appeared to reduce the inflammatory and granulation tissue phases of healing and enhance epidermal repair. Silver from SN was deposited as silver sulphide in extrafollicular hair shafts and superficial aspects of the skin and wound debris but not at deeper levels. Silver uptake was four-fold higher in damaged skin than in intact tissue. SSD was absorbed by intact and wounded skin but the silver did not precipitate as silver sulphide and its localization in the tissue is not known. Uptake of silver from SN or SSD was associated with changes in the concentrations of zinc and calcium in the skin. Zinc levels were depressed during the inflammatory and proliferative phases of healing and then increased. Zinc concentrations had normalized by 10 days when wound healing was achieved. Calcium levels remained higher than normal throughout the observation period. The mechanism of action of silver in advancing wound healing in the rat is unclear. Its ability to reduce the inflammatory and granulation phases of healing, and to invoke metallothionein production and influence metal ion binding are possibly important.

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