Normal skin wound and hypertrophic scar myofibroblasts have differential responses to apoptotic inductors



During wound healing, myofibroblasts play a central role in matrix formation and wound contraction. At the end of healing, there is evidence that myofibroblasts disappear via apoptotic pathways. Hypertrophic scars are a fibroproliferative disorder that leads to considerable morbidity. It has been postulated that a defect in myofibroblast apoptosis could be responsible for the pathological scar formation, but no evidence exists. We have isolated and cultured human normal wound (Wmyo) and hypertrophic scar (Hmyo) myofibroblasts and compared their basal apoptotic rates and their sensitivity to serum starvation and Fas antibody-induced apoptosis to that obtained for dermal fibroblasts (Fb). A higher rate of apoptosis as evidenced by morphological criteria and a propidium iodide assay was observed for Wmyo in comparison to Fb and Hmyo. These results came along with a low level of the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and BclxL in Wmyo, whereas there was an increase in the level of the pro-apoptotic molecule Bax when compared to the results obtained for Fb and Hmyo. Hmyo showed a higher level of Bcl-2 compared to Fb but no difference in the Bax or BclxL level. After serum starvation, Wmyo revealed an increased apoptotic rate, whereas Hmyo and Fb did not show any difference. Anti-Fas treatment did not modify the levels of apoptosis but strongly increased the cell growth of Hmyo as compared to Wmyo. This is the first study presenting a broad vision of the apoptotic sensitivity of normal and pathological myofibroblasts. These results confirmed the hypothesis of defects in apoptosis and growth during pathological scar formation impeding myofibroblast disappearance at the end of healing. J. Cell. Physiol. 198: 350–358, 2004© 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.