Healthy human second-trimester fetal skin is deficient in leukocytes and associated homing chemokines

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The lack of immune cells in mid-gestational fetal skin is often mentioned as a key factor underlying scarless healing. However, the scarless healing ability is conserved until long after the immune system in the fetus is fully developed. Therefore, we studied human second-trimester fetal skin and compared the numbers of immune cells and chemokine levels from fetal skin with adult skin. By using immunohistochemistry, we show that healthy fetal skin contains significant lower numbers of CD68+-macrophages, Tryptase+-mast cells, Langerin+-Langerhans cells, CD1a+-dendritic cells, and CD3+-T cells compared to adult skin. Staining with an early lineage leukocyte marker, i.e., CD45, verified that the number of CD45+-immune cells was indeed significantly lower in fetal skin but that sufficient numbers of immune cells were present in the fetal lymph node. No differences in the vascular network were observed between fetal and adult skin. Moreover, significant lower levels of lymphocyte chemokines CCL17, CCL21, and CCL27 were observed in fetal skin. However, levels of inflammatory interleukins such as IL-6, IL-8, and IL-10 were undetectable and levels of CCL2 were similar in healthy fetal and adult skin. In conclusion, this study shows that second-trimester fetal skin contains low levels of immune cells and leukocyte chemokines compared to adult skin. This immune cell deficiency includes CD45+ leukocytes, despite the abundant presence of these cells in the lymph node. The immune deficiency in healthy second-trimester fetal skin may result in reduced inflammation during wound healing, and could underlie the scarless healing capacities of the fetal skin.

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