Background: Mammalian fetal skin injury heals scarlessly. The intrinsic differences between embryonic and adult fibroblasts that underlie this observation are poorly understood. Several studies have linked Wnt proteins with skin morphogenesis. The authors' study aimed to establish a correlation between β-catenin-dependent (canonical) Wnt protein, transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1, and the expression of hyaluronan synthesis enzymes during scarless versus scarring wound healing. Methods: Wnt signaling was quantified after 1.5-mm skin wounds were created in BAT-gal fetal (e16.5) and postnatal (p1) mice. Canonical Wnt signals were localized by X-gal staining and quantified with quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. Primary embryonic and postnatal mouse dermal fibroblasts were treated with recombinant Wnt3a or TGF-β1. Proliferation was assayed by bromodeoxyuridine incorporation. Gene expression of enzymes that regulate hyaluronan production and turnover was examined by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (hyaluronan synthases or HAS1-3, hyaluronadase-2), as well as other target genes for Wnt and TGF-β (Axin2, TGF-β1, TGF-β3, type 1 collagen, proliferating cell nuclear antigen). Results: Canonical Wnt signaling increased following wounding in postnatal, but not fetal, mice. In vitro, rmWnt3a increased postnatal fibroblast proliferation but not in embryonic cells. Both Wnt3a and TGF-β1 induced HAS2 and HAS3 gene expression in embryonic fibroblasts, while HAS1 and Hyal2 were induced in postnatal fibroblasts. Finally, rmWnt3a significantly increased type I collagen expression, particularly in postnatal fibroblasts, and influenced expression of TGF-β isoforms. Conclusions: Increased canonical Wnt signaling occurs during postnatal but not fetal cutaneous wound repair. Fetal and postnatal fibroblasts have a disparate response to rmWnt3a in vitro. rmWnt3a affects postnatal fibroblasts in a similar fashion to rhTGF-β1, a known profibrotic cytokine.
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