Ageing of human skin may result from both the passage of time (intrinsic ageing) and from cumulative exposure to external influences (extrinsic ageing) such as ultraviolet radiation (UVR) which promote wrinkle formation and loss of tissue elasticity. Whilst both ageing processes are associated with phenotypic changes in cutaneous cells, the major functional manifestations of ageing occur as a consequence of structural and compositional remodeling of normally long-lived dermal extracellular matrix proteins. This review briefly considers the effects of ageing on dermal collagens and proteoglycans before focusing on the mechanisms, functional consequences and treatment of elastic fibre remodeling in ageing skin. The early stages of photoageing are characterised by the differential degradation of elastic fibre proteins and whilst the activity of extracellular matrix proteases is increased in photoexposed skin, the substrate specificity of these enzymes is low. We have recently shown however, that isolated fibrillin microfibrils are susceptible to direct degradation by physiologically attainable doses of UV-B radiation and that elastic fibre proteins as a group are highly enriched in UV-absorbing amino acid residues. Functionally, elastic fibre remodeling events may adversely impact on: the mechanical properties of tissues, the recruitment and activation of immune cells, the expression of matrix metalloproteinases and cytokine signaling (by perturbing fibrillin microfibril sequestration of TGFβ). Finally, newly developed topical interventions appear to be capable of regenerating elements of the elastic fibre system in ageing skin, whilst systemic treatments may potentially prevent the pathological tissue remodeling events which occur in response to elastic fibre degradation.
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