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Hyperelastic Material Properties of Mouse Skin under Compression

Wang, Yuxiang; Marshall, Kara L.; Baba, Yoshichika; Gerling, Gregory J.; Lumpkin, Ellen A.

The skin is a dynamic organ whose complex material properties are capable of withstanding continuous mechanical stress while accommodating insults and organism growth. Moreover, synchronized hair cycles, comprising waves of hair growth, regression and rest, are accompanied by dramatic fluctuations in skin thickness in mice. Whether such structural changes alter skin mechanics is unknown. Mouse models are extensively used to study skin biology and pathophysiology, including aging, UV-induced skin damage and somatosensory signaling. As the skin serves a pivotal role in the transfer function from sensory stimuli to neuronal signaling, we sought to define the mechanical properties of mouse skin over a range of normal physiological states. Skin thickness, stiffness and modulus were quantitatively surveyed in adult, female mice (Mus musculus). These measures were analyzed under uniaxial compression, which is relevant for touch reception and compression injuries, rather than tension, which is typically used to analyze skin mechanics. Compression tests were performed with 105 full-thickness, freshly isolated specimens from the hairy skin of the hind limb. Physiological variables included body weight, hair-cycle stage, maturity level, skin site and individual animal differences. Skin thickness and stiffness were dominated by hair-cycle stage at young (6–10 weeks) and intermediate (13–19 weeks) adult ages but by body weight in mature mice (26–34 weeks). Interestingly, stiffness varied inversely with thickness so that hyperelastic modulus was consistent across hair-cycle stages and body weights. By contrast, the mechanics of hairy skin differs markedly with anatomical location. In particular, skin containing fascial structures such as nerves and blood vessels showed significantly greater modulus than adjacent sites. Collectively, this systematic survey indicates that, although its structure changes dramatically throughout adult life, mouse skin at a given location maintains a constant elastic modulus to compression throughout normal physiological stages.

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