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To compare the healing response of sequential topically applied cytokines to that of each cytokine alone and to a placebo in pressure ulcers, and to evaluate the molecular and cellular responses.Because of a deficiency of cytokine growth factors in chronic wounds and the reversal of impaired healing in animal models, pressure ulcer trials have been performed with several exogenously applied growth factors. Because single-factor therapy has not been uniformly successful, combination or sequential cytokine therapy has been proposed. Laboratory data have suggested that sequential treatment with granulocyte-macrophage/colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF)/basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) might augment the previously reported effect of bFGF alone.A masked, randomized pressure ulcer trial was performed comparing sequential GM-CSF/bFGF therapy with that of each cytokine alone and with placebo during a 35-day period. The primary measure was wound volume decrease over time. Cytokine wound levels and mRNA levels were serially determined. Fibroblast-populated collagen lattices (FPCLs) were constructed from serial fibroblast biopsies. Cellular ultrastructure was evaluated by electron microscopy. Changes in ease of surgical closure and its relative cost were determined.Ulcers treated with cytokines had greater closure than those in placebo-treated patients. Patients treated with bFGF alone did the best, followed by the GM-CSF/bFGF group. Patients treated with GM-CSF or bFGF had higher levels of their respective cytokine after treatment. Patients with the greatest amount of healing showed higher levels of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) on day 10 and transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ1) on day 36. Message for the bFGF gene was upregulated after treatment with exogenous bFGF, suggesting autoinduction of the cytokine. FPCLs did not mimic the wound responses. Ultrastructure of wound biopsies showed response to bFGF. Treatment with any of the cytokines improved the wound by allowing easier wound closure. This was most marked for the bFGF-alone treatment, with a cost savings of $9,000 to $9,200.Treatment with bFGF resulted in significantly greater healing than the other treatments in this trial. The clinical response appeared to be related to upregulation of the bFGF message and to increased levels of PDGF-AB, bFGF, and TGFβ1 in the wounds and changes in ultrastructure. The resultant improvements could be correlated with cost savings.