PURPOSE: It is unclear whether dermal fibroblasts are indispensable key players for tissue engineering of dermo-epidermal skin analogs. In this experimental study, we wanted to test the hypothesis that tonsil-derived mesenchymal cells can assume the role of dermal fibroblasts when culturing pigmented skin analogs for transplantation.
METHODS: Mesenchymal cells from excised tonsils and keratinocytes, melanocytes, and fibroblasts from skin biopsies were isolated, cultured, and expanded. Melanocytes and keratinocytes were seeded in a ratio of 1:5 onto collagen gels previously populated either with tonsil-derived mesenchymal cells or with autologous dermal fibroblasts. These laboratory engineered skin analogs were then transplanted onto full-thickness wounds of immuno-incompetent rats and analyzed after 3 weeks with regard to macroscopic and microscopic epidermal characteristics.
RESULTS: The skin analogs containing tonsil-derived mesenchymal cells showed the same macroscopic appearance as the ones containing dermal fibroblasts. Histologically, features of epidermal stratification, pigmentation, and cornification were identical to those of the controls assembled with autologous dermal fibroblasts. Transmission electron microscopy confirmed these findings.
CONCLUSION: These data suggest that human tonsil-derived mesenchymal cells can assume dermal fibroblast functions, indicating that possibly various types of mesenchymal cells can successfully be employed for "skingineering" purposes. This aspect may have clinical implications when sources for dermal fibroblasts are scarce.