Spontaneous cell sorting of fibroblasts and keratinocytes creates an organotypic human skin equivalent

J Invest Dermatol. 2000 Apr;114(4):674-80. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2000.00938.x.


We show that an inherent ability of two distinct cell types, keratinocytes and fibroblasts, can be relied upon to accurately reconstitute full-thickness human skin including the dermal-epidermal junction by a cell-sorting mechanism. A cell slurry containing both cell types added to silicone chambers implanted on the backs of severe combined immunodeficient mice sorts out to reconstitute a clearly defined dermis and stratified epidermis within 2 wk, forming a cell-sorted skin equivalent. Immunostaining of the cell-sorted skin equivalent with human cell markers showed patterns similar to those of normal full-thickness skin. We compared the cell-sorted skin equivalent model with a composite skin model also made on severe combined immunodeficient mice. The composite grafts were constructed from partially differentiated keratinocyte sheets placed on top of a dermal equivalent constructed of devitalized dermis. Electron microscopy revealed that both models formed ample numbers of normal appearing hemidesmosomes. The cell-sorted skin equivalent model, however, had greater numbers of keratin intermediate filaments within the basal keratinocytes that connected to hemidesmosomes, and on the dermal side both collagen filaments and anchoring fibril connections to the lamina densa were more numerous compared with the composite model. Our results may provide some insight into why, in clinical applications for treating burns and other wounds, composite grafts may exhibit surface instability and blistering for up to a year following grafting, and suggest the possible usefulness of the cell-sorted skin equivalent in future grafting applications.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Separation
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / cytology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Skin / anatomy & histology
  • Skin / ultrastructure