Deep tissue injury in development of pressure ulcers: a decrease of inflammasome activation and changes in human skin morphology in response to aging and mechanical load

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 14;8(8):e69223. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069223. eCollection 2013.


Molecular mechanisms leading to pressure ulcer development are scarce in spite of high mortality of patients. Development of pressure ulcers that is initially observed as deep tissue injury is multifactorial. We postulate that biomechanical forces and inflammasome activation, together with ischemia and aging, may play a role in pressure ulcer development. To test this we used a newly-developed bio-mechanical model in which ischemic young and aged human skin was subjected to a constant physiological compressive stress (load) of 300 kPa (determined by pressure plate analyses of a person in a reclining position) for 0.5-4 hours. Collagen orientation was assessed using polarized light, whereas inflammasome proteins were quantified by immunoblotting. Loaded skin showed marked changes in morphology and NLRP3 inflammasome protein expression. Sub-epidermal separations and altered orientation of collagen fibers were observed in aged skin at earlier time points. Aged skin showed significant decreases in the levels of NLRP3 inflammasome proteins. Loading did not alter NLRP3 inflammasome proteins expression in aged skin, whereas it significantly increased their levels in young skin. We conclude that aging contributes to rapid morphological changes and decrease in inflammasome proteins in response to tissue damage, suggesting that a decline in the innate inflammatory response in elderly skin could contribute to pressure ulcer pathogenesis. Observed morphological changes suggest that tissue damage upon loading may not be entirely preventable. Furthermore, newly developed model described here may be very useful in understanding the mechanisms of deep tissue injury that may lead towards development of pressure ulcers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Dermis / injuries
  • Dermis / metabolism
  • Dermis / pathology
  • Dermis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Male
  • Materials Testing
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • Pressure
  • Pressure Ulcer / metabolism*
  • Pressure Ulcer / pathology*
  • Pressure Ulcer / physiopathology
  • Skin / injuries
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin / pathology*
  • Skin / physiopathology
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Time Factors


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Inflammasomes
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • NLRP3 protein, human
  • Collagen