Recapitulation of Native Dermal Tissue in a Full-Thickness Human Skin Model Using Human Collagens

Tissue Eng Part A. 2018 Jun;24(11-12):873-881. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEA.2017.0326. Epub 2017 Dec 21.


Objective: Full-thickness skin models comprise a three-dimensional dermal equivalent based on an animal-derived collagen matrix that harbors fibroblasts and an epidermal equivalent formed by keratinocytes. The functionality of both equivalents is influenced by many factors, including extracellular matrix composition and resident cell type. Animal-derived collagens differ in amino acid composition and physicochemical properties from human collagens. This composition could alter the functionality of the dermal equivalent and epidermal morphogenesis with the barrier formation in full-thickness models (FTMs). By replacement of animal-derived collagen for human collagen, we generated and characterized the animal material-free human collagen full-thickness models (hC-FTMs) that better mimic native dermal tissue.

Materials and methods: An isolation procedure to obtain soluble collagen from human abdominal dermis was developed. Both FTMs and hC-FTMs were generated with primary human fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Immunohistochemical analyses with biomarkers for the dermal matrix composition, basement membrane (BM) formation, epidermal proliferation, differentiation, and activation were performed. The stratum corneum (SC) lipid composition was studied with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Lipid lamellar organization was determined by small-angle X-ray diffraction.

Results: The FTMs and hC-FTMs exhibit many similarities, including the dermal matrix structure, BM formation, epidermal basal layer proliferation, and execution of differentiation programs. The SC contains a similar number of corneocyte layers and the same level of lipids. The ceramide chain length distribution and ceramide subclass profile showed only minor differences. Subsequently, this led to an unaltered lamellar organization.

Conclusion: The animal material-free hC-FTM is generated successfully using collagens isolated from human abdominal dermis. Utilization of human collagens revealed that (epi-)dermal morphogenesis and lipid barrier formation resembled that of original FTMs. The hC-FTMs contain a dermal equivalent that mimics the native stromal tissue to a higher extent. Therefore these in vitro skin models can be used as promising tool for research purposes that contribute to animal-free experimentation.

Keywords: dermal microenvironment; epidermal barrier; human collagen; human skin equivalent; lipids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Basement Membrane / cytology
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chitosan / chemistry
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Skin / cytology*


  • Collagen
  • Chitosan