Human pigmented tissue-engineered skin substitutes represent an advanced therapeutic option to treat skin defects. The inflammatory response is one of the major factors determining integration and long-term survival of such a graft in vivo. The aim of the present study was to investigate the spatiotemporal distribution of host-derived macrophage and granulocyte graft infiltration as well as hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1-alpha) expression in a (nu/nu) rat model.
Keratinocytes, melanocytes, and fibroblasts derived from human skin biopsies were isolated, cultured, and expanded in vitro. Dermal fibroblasts were seeded into collagen type I hydrogels that were subsequently covered by keratinocytes and melanocytes in 5:1 ratio. These pigmented dermo-epidermal skin substitutes were transplanted onto full-thickness skin wounds on the back of immuno-incompetent rats and analyzed at early (1 and 3 weeks) and late (6 and 12 weeks) stages of wound healing. The expression of distinct inflammatory cell markers specific for granulocytes (HIS48) or macrophages (CD11b, CD68), as well as HIF-1-alpha were analyzed and quantified by immunofluorescence microscopy.
Our data demonstrate that granulocytes infiltrate the entire graft at 1 week post-transplantation. This was followed by monocyte/macrophage recruitment to the graft at 3-12 weeks. The macrophages were initially restricted to the borders of the graft (early stages), and were then found throughout the entire graft (late stages). We observed a time-dependent decrease of macrophages. Only a few graft-infiltrating granulocytes were found between 6-12 weeks, mostly at the graft borders. A heterogeneous expression of HIF-1-alpha was observed at both early and late wound healing stages.
Our findings demonstrate the spatiotemporal distribution of inflammatory cells in our transplants closely resembles the one documented for physiological wound healing.