In traditional medicine extracts of polysaccharide-containing plants are widely employed for the treatment of skin and epithelium wounds and of mucous membrane irritation. The extracts of Opuntia ficus-indica cladodes are used in folk medicine for their antiulcer and wound-healing activities. The present study describes the wound-healing potential of two lyophilized polysaccharide extracts obtained from O. ficus-indica (L.) cladodes applied on large full-thickness wounds in the rat. When topically applied for 6 days, polysaccharides with a molecular weight (MW)>10(4)Da from O. ficus-indica cladodes induce a beneficial effect on cutaneous repair in this experimental model; in particular the topical application of O. ficus-indica extracts on skin lesions accelerates the reepithelization and remodelling phases, also by affecting cell-matrix interactions and by modulating laminin deposition. Furthermore, the wound-healing effect is more marked for polysaccharides with a MW ranging 10(4)-10(6)Da than for those with MW>10(6)Da, leading us to suppose that the fine structure of these polysaccharides and thus their particular hygroscopic, rheologic and viscoelastic properties may be essential for the wound-healing promoter activity observed.