Collagenase-3 (MMP-13) is a matrix metalloproteinase capable of cleaving a multitude of extracellular matrix proteins in addition to fibrillar collagens. Human MMP-13 is expressed by fibroblasts in chronic cutaneous ulcers, but not in normally healing adult skin wounds. However, MMP-13 is produced by fibroblasts in adult gingival and in fetal skin wounds characterized by rapid collagen remodeling and scarless healing. Here, we have examined the role of human MMP-13 in remodeling of three-dimensional (3D) collagenous matrix by primary adult human skin fibroblasts. The high level of human MMP-13 expression by fibroblasts achieved by adenoviral gene delivery resulted in potent enhancement of remodeling and contraction of 3D collagen. Fibroblasts expressing MMP-13 in 3D collagen possessed altered filamentous actin morphology with patch-like actin distribution in cell extensions. The expression of MMP-13 promotes survival and proliferation of fibroblasts in floating collagen gel, and results in activation of Akt and extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1/2 by these cells. The results provide evidence for a novel role for human MMP-13 in regulating dermal fibroblast survival, proliferation, and interaction in 3D collagen, which may be an important survival mechanism for fibroblasts in chronic skin ulcers and contribute to scarless healing of adult gingival and fetal skin wounds.

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