Background Glucocorticoids have been shown to downregulate collagen synthesis in human skin in vivo, thereby contributing to skin atrophy.
Objectives To compare the effects of continuous and intermittent use of topical hydrocortisone on skin collagen synthesis and, furthermore, to elucidate the mechanism of collagen synthesis reduction induced by hydrocortisone.
Methods Collagen propeptides reflecting the synthesis rate of type I and III collagens were studied from suction blister fluids in nine healthy subjects after 3 weeks of continuous (twice daily) or intermittent (on three consecutive days weekly) topical hydrocortisone treatment and 2 weeks after the termination of treatment. Type I collagen mRNA was studied in the same subjects from skin biopsies by using in situ hybridization (ISH) after 3 weeks of treatment.
Results Three weeks of continuous treatment decreased the types I and III collagen propeptides in suction blister fluid by 89% and 82%, respectively, while intermittent treatment resulted in a corresponding decrease of 53% and 50%. ISH studies from skin biopsies showed type I collagen mRNA to be markedly reduced in fibroblasts after continuous and intermittent steroid treatment. After a 2-week drug-free interval, the synthesis rate was completely restored in both areas, and some subjects even showed upregulation of synthesis in previously steroid-treated skin.
Conclusions Continuous hydrocortisone for 3 weeks markedly decreases collagen propeptides and corresponding mRNA in human skin. Intermittent hydrocortisone has a less marked effect on the collagen synthesis rate.