Background: Dehiscence of colon anastomosis is a common, serious and potentially life-threatening complication after colorectal operation. In experimental models, impaired biomechanic strength of colon anastomoses is preventable by general inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and associated with collagen loss, which indicates a possible link between MMP-mediated collagen degradation and dehiscence. The precise localization of collagen degradation within the anastomotic area and the specific MMPs responsible are unknown.
Methods: We have analyzed distinct zones within anastomoses using a novel microdissection technique for collagen levels, collagenolytic activity exerted directly by endogenous proteinases, and MMP-8 and MMP-9 immunoreactivity and their collagenolytic activity.
Results: The most pronounced collagen loss was observed in the suture-holding zone, showing a 29% drop compared with adjacent micro-areas of 3-day-old anastomoses. Only this specific tissue compartment underwent a dramatic and significant increase in collagenolysis, amounting to a loss of 10% of existing collagen molecules in 24 hours, and was abolished by metalloproteinase inhibitors. The tissue surrounding suture channels was heavily infiltrated with CD68-positive histiocytes that expressed MMP-8 and to a lesser extent MMP-9. The collagenolytic effect of the interstitial collagenase MMP-8 was synergistically potentiated by the gelatinase MMP-9 when added to colon biopsies incubated in vitro.
Conclusions: The unique finding of this study was that the specific tissue holding the sutures of a colon anastomosis lost the most collagen presumably through induction and activation of multiple MMPs that may explain the beneficial effects of treatment with non-selective MMP antagonists.