Adaptation of the dermal collagen structure of human skin and scar tissue in response to stretch: An experimental study

Pauline D. Verhaegen, Hennie J. Schouten, Wikky Tigchelaar-Gutter, Jan van Marle, Cornelis J. van Noorden, Esther Middelkoop, Paul P. van Zuijlen

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Surgeons are often faced with large defects that are difficult to close. Stretching adjacent skin can facilitate wound closure. In clinical practice, intraoperative stretching is performed in a cyclical or continuous fashion. However, exact mechanisms of tissue adaptation to stretch remain unclear. Therefore, we investigated collagen and elastin orientation and morphology of stretched and nonstretched healthy skin and scars. Tissue samples were stretched, fixed in stretched-out position, and processed for histology. Objective methods were used to quantify the collagen orientation index (COI), bundle thickness, and bundle spacing. Also sections were analyzed for elastin orientation and quantity. Significantly more parallel aligned collagen bundles were found after cyclical (COI = 0.57) and continuous stretch (COI = 0.57) compared with nonstretched skin (COI = 0.40). Similarly, more parallel aligned elastin was found after stretch. Also, significantly thicker collagen bundles and more bundle spacing were found after stretch. For stretched scars, significantly more parallel aligned collagen was found (COI = 0.61) compared with nonstretched scars (COI = 0.49). In conclusion, both elastin and collagen realign in a parallel fashion in response to stretch. For healthy skin, thicker bundles and more space between the bundles were found. Rapid changes in extension, alignment, and collagen morphology appear to be the underlying mechanisms of adaptation to stretching
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-666
JournalWound repair and regeneration
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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