Skin aging is a complex phenomenon in which several mechanisms operate simultaneously. Among them, intrinsic aging is a time-dependent process, which leads to gradual skin changes affecting its structure and function such as thinning down of both epidermal and dermal compartments and a flattening and fragility of the dermo-epidermal junction.
Today, several approaches have been proposed for the generation of aged skin in vitro, including skin explants from aged donors and three-dimensional skin equivalent treated by aging-inducing chemical compounds or engineered with human cells isolated from aged donors. The aim of this study was to develop and validate a new in vitro model of aging based on skin equivalent demonstrating the same phenotypic changes that were observed in chronological aging. By using prolonged culture as a proxy for cellular aging, we extended to 120 days the culture time of a skin equivalent model based on collagen-glycosaminoglycan-chitosan porous polymer and engineered with human skin cells from photo-protected sites of young donors.
Morphological, immunohistological and ultrastructural analysis at different time points of the culture allowed characterizing the phenotypic changes observed in our model in comparison to samples of non photo-exposed normal human skin from different ages. We firstly confirmed that long-term cultured skin equivalents are still morphologically consistent and functionally active even after 120 days of culture. However, similar to in vivo chronological skin aging a significant decrease of the epidermis thickness as well as the number of keratinocyte expressing proliferation marker Ki67 are observed in extended culture time skin equivalent. Epidermal differentiation markers loricrin, filaggrin, involucrin and transglutaminase, also strongly decreased. Ultrastructural analysis of basement membrane showed typical features of aged skin such as duplication of lamina densa and alterations of hemidesmosomes. Moreover, the expression of hyaluronan and its surface receptor CD44 drastically decreased as observed during chronological skin aging. Finally, we found that the level of p16INK4A expression significantly increased supporting cellular senescence process associated to our model.
To conclude, the major morphological and ultrastructural epidermal modifications observed in both our extended culture skin equivalent model and skin biopsies from old donors validate the relevance of our model for studying chronological aging, understanding and elucidating age-related modifications of basic skin biological processes. In addition, our model provides a unique tool for identifying new targeted molecules intended at improving the appearance of aging skin.
Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier B.V.