During growth and development, the skin expands to cover the growing skeleton and soft tissues by constantly responding to the intrinsic forces of underlying skeletal growth as well as to the extrinsic mechanical forces from body movements and external supports. Mechanical forces can be perceived by two types of skin receptors: (1) cellular mechanoreceptors/mechanosensors, such as the cytoskeleton, cell adhesion molecules and mechanosensitive (MS) ion channels, and (2) sensory nerve fibres that produce the somatic sensation of mechanical force. Skin disorders in which there is an abnormality of collagen [e.g. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)] or elastic (e.g. cutis laxa) fibres or a malfunction of cutaneous nerve fibres (e.g. neurofibroma, leprosy and diabetes mellitus) are also characterized to some extent by deficiencies in mechanobiological processes. Recent studies have shown that mechanotransduction is crucial for skin development, especially hemidesmosome maturation, which implies that the pathogenesis of skin disorders such as bullous pemphigoid is related to skin mechanobiology. Similarly, autoimmune diseases, including scleroderma and mixed connective tissue disease, and pathological scarring in the form of keloids and hypertrophic scars would seem to be clearly associated with the mechanobiological dysfunction of the skin. Finally, skin ageing can also be considered as a degenerative process associated with mechanobiological dysfunction. Clinically, a therapeutic strategy involving mechanoreceptors or MS nociceptor inhibition or acceleration together with a reduction or augmentation in the relevant mechanical forces is likely to be successful. The development of novel approaches such as these will allow the treatment of a broad range of cutaneous diseases.
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