Silicone tissue expanders were inserted subcutaneously in the buttocks of nine young pigs and gradually inflated to maximum capacity over 5 weeks. On the control side the expanders were left uninflated. Island buttock flaps were then raised, the expanders removed and the flaps spread into the same sites for 10 days. The tissue was harvested. Area measurements and full thickness skin biopsies were taken 10 days after flap inset in order to study the changes in collagen composition and isotypes in the skin layers. Ten days after inset of the flap the expanded skin had a mean 47% increase in surface area, was 9% thinner (from surface to implant), mostly due to thinning of the subcutaneous zone, but was not significantly different in water content, relative to the control skin. The expanded skin had a significant 9.3% increase (P<0.01, t test) in collagen content of the dermis. The relative proportions of Types I and III were not significantly changed by skin expansion in either the dermal/epidermal or subcutaneous/capsular zones. It is speculated that tensile factors during expansion stimulate the biosynthetic activity and/or mitotic activity of fibroblasts in the dermis to produce this gain in collagen in the expanded compared with unexpanded tissue.
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