Heterogeneity of fibrillin-rich microfibrils extracted from human skin of diverse ethnicity

Abigail K. Langton, Mark Hann, Patrick Costello, Poonam Halai, Sabrina Sisto Alessi César, Anna Lien-Lun Chien, Sewon Kang, Christopher E.M. Griffiths, Michael J. Sherratt, Rachel E.B. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The dermal elastic fibre network is the primary effector of skin elasticity, enabling it to extend and recoil many times over the lifetime of the individual. Fibrillin-rich microfibrils (FRMs) constitute integral components of the elastic fibre network, with their distribution showing differential deposition in the papillary dermis across individuals of diverse skin ethnicity. Despite these differential findings in histological presentation, it is not known if skin ethnicity influences FRM ultrastructure. FRMs are evolutionarily highly conserved from jellyfish to man and, regardless of tissue type or species, isolated FRMs have a characteristic ‘beads-on-a-string’ ultrastructural appearance, with an average inter-bead distance (or periodicity) of 56 nm. Here, skin biopsies were obtained from the photoprotected buttock of healthy volunteers (18-27 years; African: n = 5; European: n = 5), and FRMs were isolated from the superficial papillary dermis and deeper reticular dermis and imaged by atomic force microscopy. In the reticular dermis, there was no significant difference in FRM ultrastructure between European and African participants. In contrast, in the more superficial papillary dermis, inter-bead periodicity was significantly larger for FRMs extracted from European participants than from African participants by 2.20 nm (p <.001). We next assessed whether these differences in FRM ultrastructure were present during early postnatal development by characterizing FRMs from full-thickness neonatal foreskin. Analysis of FRM periodicity identified no significant difference between neonatal cohorts (p =.865). These data suggest that at birth, FRMs are developmentally invariant. However, in adults of diverse skin ethnicity, there is a deviation in ultrastructure for the papillary dermal FRMs that may be acquired during the passage of time from child to adulthood. Understanding the mechanism by which this difference in papillary dermal FRMs arises warrants further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-486
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • atomic force microscopy
  • extracellular matrix
  • fibrillin-rich microfibrils
  • skin ethnicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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