In this study in vitro and in vivo functions were compared between cultured dermal equivalents produced with human fibroblasts isolated either from papillary dermis or adipose tissue of the same donors. Papillary dermal fibroblasts had a normal spindle cell shape; in contrast, adipose tissue fibroblasts had a stellate cell shape, actin stress fibers containing alpha-smooth muscle actin, multiple narrow extensions at their edges, and longer focal adhesion plaques. After dynamic culture for 14 days in PEGT/PBT carrier scaffolds, cell numbers between the two cell sources were comparable, but tissue morphology was different between the cultured groups. In addition, papillary fibroblasts had deposited significantly more glycosaminoglycans (214 +/- 15 versus 159 +/- 21 microg, p < 0.001) and a lower amount of collagen (49 +/- 14 versus 111 +/- 25 microg of hydroxyproline, p < 0.001) than had adipose fibroblasts. Moreover, the latter constructs were significantly more contracted than the papillary fibroblast-cultured constructs (78 +/- 6 versus 96 +/- 3%, p < 0.001). In comparison with the influence of cultured dermal equivalents on wound healing, the transplantation of five groups (control acellular carrier, papillary fibroblast-seeded construct, adipose fibroblast-seeded construct, papillary fibroblast-cultured construct, and adipose fibroblast-cultured construct) to full-thickness wounds on the backs of athymic mice showed clear differences in angiogenesis and tissue ingrowth after 10 days, and in reepithelialization after 21 days. After 10 days, the level of vascular ingrowth in the carrier (von Willebrand staining) for the five groups was as follows: adipose fibroblast-cultured > papillary fibroblast-cultured = adipose fibroblast-seeded > papillary fibroblast-seeded > acellular carrier. After 21 days, only the acellular carriers were not vascularized and the papillary fibroblast-seeded constructs were not completely vascularized. Complete wound reepithelialization (92 +/- 12%) was observed only in the group treated with adipose cultured constructs. Wound contraction was not observed. Staining for HLA-ABC and alpha-smooth muscle actin showed that human fibroblasts had survived and that adipose fibroblasts continued to express the actin isoform. These results showed not only stimulation of skin repair when fibroblasts were present in the carrier, but also significant positive effects of the deposited extracellular matrix (ECM) in the carrier. In addition, the adipose fibroblast-seeded construct, and especially the adipose fibroblast-cultured construct, significantly stimulated angiogenesis and reepithelialization when compared with their corresponding papillary fibroblast constructs. Apparently, tissue source or fibroblast phenotype and the presence of ECM play a crucial role in the stimulation of (impaired) healing and engineering of dermal equivalents.