We investigated the architecture of the extracellular matrix (ECM) during healing of full-thickness wounds in the pig. Two different treatments, one based on epidermal transplantation (split skin mesh grafts, SP wounds) and one consisting of a combination of epidermal transplantation and a dermal matrix substitute (MA wounds) were compared. The dermal matrix consisted of native bovine collagen coated with elastin hydrolysate. The latter treatment reduced wound contraction and improved tissue regeneration. The expression patterns of fibronectin, von Willebrand factor, laminin, chondroitin sulfate, and elastin, detected by immunohistochemistry, were examined in time and indicated different stages of healing. During the early phase of healing the dermal matrix induced more granulation tissue, a different fibronectin expression pattern, and rapid vascular cell ingrowth (von Willebrand factor). Furthermore, in the MA wounds chondroitin sulfate was detected earlier in the basement membrane and fibronectin staining disappeared more rapidly. During later stages of healing, chondroitin sulfate expression was selective for areas in which ECM remodeling was active; in these specific areas elastin staining reappeared. ECM remodeling and elastin regeneration occurred both in the upper and lower dermis for the MA wounds but only in the upper dermis for the SP wounds. Electron microscopic evaluation of the wounds after 2 weeks showed many myofibroblasts in the SP wounds, whereas in the MA wounds cells associated with the dermal matrix had characteristics of normal fibroblasts. The results suggest that the biodegradable dermal matrix served as a template for dermal tissue regeneration, allowed faster regeneration, and improved the quality of healing in large full-thickness skin defect
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