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INTRODUCTION: Inducing vascularization in three-dimensional skin constructs continues to be difficult. In this study, two variations of human full-thickness skin constructs were examined. Type KCFB consists of keratinocytes (epidermal equivalent) and fibroblasts that were embedded in a collagen matrix (dermal equivalent). Type KCFB-EC consists of keratinocytes as well as fibroblasts and vascular endothelial cells. The epidermal equivalent of KCFB-EC constructs underwent cellular alterations in their differentiation possibly induced by the presence of endothelial cells. The objective of the study was to assess the effect of endothelial cells, i.e., endothelialization of the dermal equivalent on the differentiation of keratinocytes by comparing the morphology and ultrastructure of the two types of skin constructs, as well as to excised normal human skin.
HYPOTHESIS: The differentiation of keratinocytes is influenced by the presence of endothelial cells.
METHODS, PATIENTS, MATERIAL: KCFB constructs (keratinocytes, fibroblasts) and KCFB-EC skin constructs(kera-tinocytes, fibroblasts, endothelial cells) were prepared according to Küchler et al. . After two weeks, the skin constructs were processed for analysis by light microscopy (LM) and electron microscopy (TEM), followed by quantitative, semi-quantitative as well as qualitative assessment. For comparison, analysis by LM and TEM of excised normal human skin was also performed.
RESULTS: Both KCFB and KCFB-EC skin constructs and the human skin had all strata of stratified soft-cornified epidermis present. The comparison of the respective layers of the skin constructs brought the following characteristics to light: The KCFB-EC constructs had significantly more mitotic cells in the stratum spinosum, more cell layers in the stratum granulosum and more keratohyalin granules compared to KCFB skin constructs. Additionally, the epidermal architecture was unorganized in the endothelialized constructs and features of excessive epidermal differentiation appeared in KCFB-EC skin constructs.
CONCLUSION: The endothelialization of the dermal equivalent caused changes in the differentiation of the epidermis of KCFB-EC skin constructs that may be interpreted as an unbalanced, i.e., uncontrolled or enhanced maturation process.