The surgical mesh-free repair of incisional hernias has to face recurrence rates of up to 50%. Apart from technical faults this is probably due to collagen metabolic disorders, known to play an important role in the development of inguinal hernia. In particular an altered ratio of collagen types I and III with an increase in collagen type III has been claimed to reduce the mechanical strength of connective tissues. Therefore, we investigated the content of collagen types I and III in the skin of patients with incisional hernia (n = 7) and recurrent incisional hernia (n = 5) in comparison to controls with healthy skin (n = 7) and normal skin scar (n = 7) both by immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis. Both immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis revealed a decrease in the ratio of collagen I/III due to a concomitant increase in collagen III. The patients with incisional hernias and with recurrent incisional hernias showed a ratio of 1.0 ± 0.1 and 0.8 ± 0.1, respectively, whereas the controls exhibit a ratio of 2.1 ± 0.2 in healthy skin and of 1.2 ± 0.2 in normal skin scar, respectively. The decrease was highly significant (p < 0.01) between the patients with either primary or recurrent hernia and the controls or the normal scar, as well as between controls and normal scar, whereas there was not any significant difference between primary and recurrent hernia (p > 0.05). Our data for the first time confirmed that the presence of incisional hernia is accompanied by impaired collagen synthesis in the skin. The decreased tensile strength of collagen type III may play a key role in the development of incisional hernias. Furthermore, it might explain the high recurrence rates of hernia repair by simple closure, as a repetition of the primarily failing technique, and the improvement by the additional use of alloplastic material.
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