Background/aims: The influence of mechanical forces on skin has been examined since 1861 when Langer first reported the existence of lines of tension in cadaver skin. Internal tension in the dermis is not only passively transferred to the epidermis but also gives rise to active cell-extracellular matrix and cell–cell mechanical interactions that may be an important part of the homeostatic processes that are involved in normal skin metabolism. The purpose of this review is to analyse how internal and external mechanical loads are applied at the macromolecular and cellular levels in the epidermis and dermis.
Methods: A review of the literature suggests that internal and external forces applied to dermal cells appear to be involved in mechanochemical transduction processes involving both cell–cell and cell–extra-cellular matrix (ECM) interactions. Internal forces present in dermis are the result of passive tension that is incorporated into the collagen fiber network during development. Active tension generated by fibroblasts involves specific interactions between cell membrane integrins and macromolecules found in the ECM, especially collagen fibrils. Forces appear to be transduced at the cell–ECM interface via re-arrangement of cytoskeletal elements, activation of stretch-induced changes in ion channels, cell contraction at adherens junctions, activation of cell membrane-associated secondary messenger pathways and through growth factor-like activities that influence cellular proliferation and protein synthesis.
Conclusions: Internal and external mechanical loading appears to affect skin biology through mechanochemical transduction processes. Further studies are needed to understand how mechanical forces, energy storage and conversion of mechanical energy into changes in chemical potential of small and large macromolecules may occur and influence the metabolism of dermal cells.