Background: Skin atrophy is a common manifestation of aging and is frequently accompanied by ulceration and delayed wound healing. With an increasingly aging patient population, management of skin atrophy is becoming a major challenge in the clinic, particularly in light of the fact that there are no effective therapeutic options at present.
Methods and findings: Atrophic skin displays a decreased hyaluronate (HA) content and expression of the major cell-surface hyaluronate receptor, CD44. In an effort to develop a therapeutic strategy for skin atrophy, we addressed the effect of topical administration of defined-size HA fragments (HAF) on skin trophicity. Treatment of primary keratinocyte cultures with intermediate-size HAF (HAFi; 50,000-400,000 Da) but not with small-size HAF (HAFs; <50,000 Da) or large-size HAF (HAFl; >400,000 Da) induced wild-type (wt) but not CD44-deficient (CD44-/-) keratinocyte proliferation. Topical application of HAFi caused marked epidermal hyperplasia in wt but not in CD44-/- mice, and significant skin thickening in patients with age- or corticosteroid-related skin atrophy. The effect of HAFi on keratinocyte proliferation was abrogated by antibodies against heparin-binding epidermal growth factor (HB-EGF) and its receptor, erbB1, which form a complex with a particular isoform of CD44 (CD44v3), and by tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-3 (TIMP-3).
Conclusions: Our observations provide a novel CD44-dependent mechanism for HA oligosaccharide-induced keratinocyte proliferation and suggest that topical HAFi application may provide an attractive therapeutic option in human skin atrophy.