Comparison of Neurovascular Characteristics of Facial Skin in Patients After Primary and Revision Rhytidectomies

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Wound healing influences both the cosmetic and functional outcomes of facial surgery. Study of cutaneous innervation may afford insight into patients’ preoperative wound healing potential and aid in their selection of appropriate surgical procedures.


To present the quantitative and qualitative differences of epidermal nerve fibers (ENFs), neurotransmitters, vasculature, and mast cells in facial skin among patients after primary and revision rhytidectomies.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This pilot study collected cutaneous specimens from 8 female patients aged 42 to 66 years who underwent primary rhytidectomy (n = 5) and revision rhytidectomy (n = 3) at Centennial Lakes Surgery Center, Edina, Minnesota, from July 2010 to March 2014. Tissue was processed for confocal/epifluorescence microscopy and indirect immunofluorescent localization of several neural and tissue antigens as well as basement membrane and mast cell markers.


Primary rhytidectomy vs revision rhytidectomy with selection of a small area of redundant, otherwise disposed of tissue anterior to the tragus for ENF study.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Demographic characteristics included smoking status; 10-point rating scales for facial sensation, pain, and paresthesias; and confocal/epifluorescence microscopy to quantify ENFs, neurotransmitters, vasculature, and mast cells.


Patients in the primary rhytidectomy group had a mean (SD) of 54.4 (31.6) ENFs/mm (range, 14.2-99.2 ENFs/mm), and those in the revision rhytidectomy group had a mean (SD) of 18.6 (5.8) ENFs/mm (range, 13.8-25.0 ENFs/mm). A patient in the primary rhytidectomy group was a 25-pack-year smoker and had 14.2 ENFs/mm, the lowest in both groups. In addition to these structural neural changes, functional neural changes in revision rhytidectomy samples included qualitative changes in normal neural antigen prevalence (substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide, and vasoactive intestinal peptide). Capillary loops appeared less robust and were less common in dermal papilla among samples from both the primary and revision groups, and mast cells were more degranulated. No differences were found in subjective, self-reported postoperative facial sensation.

Conclusions and Relevance

Previous skin elevation was associated with decreased epidermal nerve fiber density and qualitative changes in dermal nerves, capillaries, and mast cells in a clinical sample of patients undergoing rhytidectomy. Future research is needed to determine whether histological findings predict wound healing and to better understand the effects of surgery on regenerative capacity of epidermal nerve fibers.

Level of Evidence


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