Reduced cell cohesiveness of outgrowths from eccrine sweat glands delays wound closure in elderly skin

Aging Cell. 2016 Oct;15(5):842-52. doi: 10.1111/acel.12493. Epub 2016 May 17.


Human skin heals more slowly in aged vs. young adults, but the mechanism for this delay is unclear. In humans, eccrine sweat glands (ESGs) and hair follicles underlying wounds generate cohesive keratinocyte outgrowths that expand to form the new epidermis. Here, we compared the re-epithelialization of partial-thickness wounds created on the forearm of healthy young (< 40 yo) and aged (> 70 yo) adults. Our results confirm that the outgrowth of cells from ESGs is a major feature of repair in young skin. Strikingly, in aged skin, although ESG density is unaltered, less than 50% of the ESGs generate epithelial outgrowths during repair (vs. 100% in young). Surprisingly, aging does not alter the wound-induced proliferation response in hair follicles or ESGs. Instead, there is an overall reduced cohesiveness of keratinocytes in aged skin. Reduced cell-cell cohesiveness was most obvious in ESG-derived outgrowths that, when present, were surrounded by unconnected cells in the scab overlaying aged wounds. Reduced cell-cell contact persisted during the repair process, with increased intercellular spacing and reduced number of desmosomes. Together, reduced outgrowths of ESG (i) reduce the initial number of cells participating in epidermal repair, (ii) delay wound closure, and (iii) lead to a thinner repaired epidermis in aged vs. young skin. Failure to form cohesive ESG outgrowths may reflect impaired interactions of keratinocytes with the damaged ECM in aged skin. Our findings provide a framework to better understand the mediators of delayed re-epithelialization in aging and further support the importance of ESGs for the repair of human wounds.

Keywords: aging; cell-cell contact; eccrine sweat gland; extracellular matrix; mechanical forces; skin; wound healing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Desmosomes / metabolism
  • Eccrine Glands / pathology*
  • Epidermis / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Skin / pathology*
  • Wound Healing*