Development of a full-thickness human skin equivalent in vitro model derived from TERT-immortalized keratinocytes and fibroblasts

C.M.A. Reijnders, A. van Lier, S. Roffel, D. Kramer, R.J. Scheper, S. Gibbs

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Currently, human skin equivalents (HSEs) used for in vitro assays (e.g., for wound healing) make use of primary human skin cells. Limitations of primary keratinocytes and fibroblasts include availability of donor skin and donor variation. The use of physiologically relevant cell lines could solve these limitations. The aim was to develop a fully differentiated HSE constructed entirely from human skin cell lines, which could be applied for in vitro wound-healing assays. Skin equivalents were constructed from human TERT-immortalized keratinocytes and fibroblasts (TERT-HSE) and compared with native skin and primary HSEs. HSEs were characterized by hematoxylin-eosin and immunohistochemical stainings with markers for epidermal proliferation and differentiation, basement membrane (BM), fibroblasts, and the extracellular matrix (ECM). Ultrastructure was determined with electron microscopy. To test the functionality of the TERT-HSE, burn and cold injuries were applied, followed by immunohistochemical stainings, measurement of reepithelialization, and determination of secreted wound-healing mediators. The TERT-HSE was composed of a fully differentiated epidermis and a fibroblast-populated dermis comparable to native skin and primary HSE. The epidermis consisted of proliferating keratinocytes within the basal layer, followed by multiple spinous layers, a granular layer, and cornified layers. Within the TERT-HSE, the membrane junctions such as corneosomes, desmosomes, and hemidesmosomes were well developed as shown by ultrastructure pictures. Furthermore, the BM consisted of a lamina lucida and lamina densa comparable to native skin. The dermal matrix of the TERT-HSE was more similar to native skin than the primary construct, since collagen III, an ECM marker, was present in TERT-HSEs and absent in primary HSEs. After wounding, the TERT-HSE was able to reepithelialize and secrete inflammatory wound-healing mediators. In conclusion, the novel TERT-HSE, constructed entirely from human cell lines, provides an excellent opportunity to study in vitro skin biology and can also be used for drug targeting and testing new therapeutics, and ultimately, for incorporating into skin-on-a chip in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2448-2459
JournalTissue engineering. Part A
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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