Maggots and wound healing: an investigation of the effects of secretions from Lucilia sericata larvae upon interactions between human dermal fibroblasts and extracellular matrix components

Br J Dermatol. 2003 May;148(5):923-33. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2003.05314.x.


Background: Through clinical observation, Lucilia sericata (greenbottle fly) larvae are credited with exerting the following beneficial effects upon a chronic nonhealing wound: removal of necrotic tissue ('debridement'), disinfection of the wound and active promotion of granulation tissue formation. As a major cellular component of granulation tissue, fibroblasts play an extensive role in healing. The composition of extracellular matrix (ECM) located in the wound is another important factor, partaking in a dynamic feedback loop with the fibroblasts that produce it. Fibroblast-ECM interactions therefore exert considerable influence upon new tissue formation.

Objectives: To investigate the effects of L. sericata larval excretory/secretory products (ES) upon the behaviour of fibroblasts, seeded upon ECM component surfaces.

Methods: ES were collected by washing freshly hatched larvae in phosphate-buffered saline. Human dermal neonatal fibroblast cells were seeded upon fibronectin- or collagen-coated surfaces, together with untreated (or 'native') ES, heat-treated ES, or no ES (ES blank). Following incubation, fibroblast adhesion was determined using an adenosine triphosphate assay and, for confirmation, a total nucleic acid content assay. Cell spreading was observed using microscopy. The effect of ES upon fibronectin structure was observed using sodium dodecyl sulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Peptide sequencing of suspected fibronectin fragments was performed using an 'electrospray' type time of flight mass spectrometer and 'Peptident' database search.

Results: ES significantly reduced fibroblast adhesion to both fibronectin and, to a lesser extent, collagen. Cell spreading was also reduced, yet cells remained viable. For both spreading and adhesion, heat-treated ES exerted significantly less activity than native, untreated ES. However, they still exhibited significant activity when compared with the ES blank. ES appeared to modify fibroblast adhesion indirectly via proteolytic fragmentation of the fibronectin protein surface.

Conclusions: L. sericata larval secretions modify fibroblast adhesion and spreading across ECM protein surfaces, while keeping cells viable. Proteolytic activity of the ES played a significant role. If transferred to the wound situation, such alteration of fibroblast-ECM interactions may enhance new tissue formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chronic Disease
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Dermis / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibronectins / genetics
  • Fibronectins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Larva / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Muscidae*
  • Wound Healing / physiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*


  • Fibronectins
  • Collagen