Human fetal skin heals without scar formation when it is transplanted to a subcutaneous location on an adult athymic mouse and subsequently wounded. In contrast, human fetal skin of identical gestational age heals with scar formation when transplanted to a cutaneous location on the athymic mouse recipient. To determine if mouse (adult) or human (fetal) fibroblasts are healing the graft wounds, we performed indirect immunohistochemistry for mouse and human collagen types I and III.
Full-thickness skin grafts (n = 51) from human fetuses at 18 weeks' (n = 4) or 24 weeks' (n = 2) gestational age were placed onto athymic mice in two locations: cutaneously onto a fascial bed and subcutaneously in a pocket under the murine panniculus carnosus. Linear incisions were made in each graft 7 days after transplantation. Grafts were harvested at 7, 14, and 21 days after wounding and stained with hematoxylin and eosin or Mallory's trichrome. Immunohistochemistry for either human collagen type I or type III or for mouse collagen type I was performed.
The subcutaneous grafts healed with human collagen types I and III in a scarless pattern. The wound collagen pattern was reticular and unrecognizable from the surrounding dermis. Hair follicles and sebaceous gland patterns were unchanged in the wounded dermis. Conversely, the cutaneous grafts healed with mouse collagen in a scar pattern with disorganized collagen fibers and no appendages. Mouse collagen scar was present along the base of the cutaneous grafts and as a thin capsule around the subcutaneous grafts.
We conclude that (1) subcutaneous grafts heal with human fetal collagen and no scar formation, and (2) cutaneous grafts heal with mouse collagen in a scar pattern. Fetal fibroblasts can heal fetal skin wounds without scar despite being perfused by adult serum and inflammatory cells in an adult environment. These data suggest that the fetal fibroblast is the major effector cell for scarless fetal skin repair.
©1995American Society of Plastic Surgeons