Background/purpose: Collagen is the major structural protein of the skin and its crosslinks are essential for its mechanical stability. In photodamaged skin, a decrease of the mature collagen crosslink histidinohydroxylysino-norleucine was reported. In this study, we investigated the consequences and measurability of the reduced crosslinking.
Methods: In order to determine the consequences of reduced collagen crosslinking, in vitro models of reduced collagen crosslinking were established. The collagen synthesis and structure was analyzed using the signals second harmonic generation (SHG) and the fluorescence lifetime of the collagen autofluorescence by a multiphoton laser scanning microscope.
Results: Reduced collagen crosslinking results in a posttranscriptionally diminished collagen synthesis, a modified structure of the collagen fibers and fibrils and a higher intensity of the SHG signal. The SHG signal might be influenced by the interspaces of the collagen molecules within one collagen fibril. Because of these findings, it can be speculated that reduced collagen crosslinking changes the interspace of single collagen molecules within the collagen fibril, resulting in an enhanced SHG signal. Alternative explanations are discussed. Furthermore, the fluorescence lifetime was reduced in the in vitro models of reduced collagen crosslinking. In the crosslink sites of the collagen molecules, the main ratio of fluorescence is found. As the fluorescence lifetime is determined not only by the fluorescent molecule itself but also by its microenvironment, the change in the fluorescence lifetime might be explained by reduced crosslinking at the crosslink site.
Conclusion: A reduction of collagen crosslinking (as seen in photodamaged skin) results in an increase of the SHG signal and a decrease of the fluorescence lifetime in vitro. In vivo measurements of the two parameters might reveal the status of collagen crosslinking and therefore help to identify the status of dermal photodamage or pathogenesis using collagen crosslinking determination.