Photo/IllutrationCollagen, shown in blue, is arranged in a mesh-like pattern in the human dermis observed with a microscope. (Provided by Shin Saito of Kyoto University)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Researchers have upturned the conventional belief that collagen breaks down with age, a finding that is expected to help uncover the mechanism behind the skin's flexibility and advance research on anti-aging.

The researchers, mainly from Kyoto University, found that collagen, a fibrous protein related to the skin's elasticity and firmness, is arranged in a mesh-like pattern, rather than being randomly organized.

“The structure of collagen does not break owing to aging," said team member Shin Saito, a Kyoto University lecturer specializing in plastic surgery. "The skin loses elasticity for other reasons."

The study was published in the British journal Scientific Reports on July 23.

Skin has the dermis, a layer below the surface that plays a key role in protecting the body.

It has been conventionally thought that collagen, a major component of the dermis, is randomly arranged because the protein appears disorganized when observed under an electronic microscope.

However, the team believes that the structure of collagen has yet to be fully observed until now owing to the sagging of the dermis and other factors.

The researchers used surplus dermis obtained from medical operations such as skin transplantation for the study, stretching it into a circular shape like the skin of a Japanese drum and making it transparent using a special chemical. They then analyzed how collagen fibers are organized using a laser microscope.

When examining the dermis in skin from the thighs of six men and women aged between their 40s and 80s, it was found that collagen fibers were arranged in a mesh-like pattern.

While the protein is considered to deteriorate with age, the study team's analysis showed that collagen's structure was maintained even in the skin of elderly people.

Saito said that determining the dermis' structure could further anti-aging and skin regeneration research.