Fibroblasts are a highly heterogeneous cell population implicated in the pathogenesis of many human diseases. In human skin dermis, fibroblasts have traditionally been attributed to the superficial papillary or lower reticular dermis according to their histological localization. In mouse dermis, papillary and reticular fibroblasts originate from two different lineages with diverging functions regarding physiological and pathological processes and a distinct cell surface marker expression profile by which they can be distinguished.
Importantly, evidence from explant cultures from superficial and lower dermal layers suggest that at least two functionally distinct dermal fibroblasts lineages exist in human skin dermis as well. However, unlike for mouse skin, cell surface markers enabling the discrimination of different fibroblast subsets have not yet been established for human skin. We developed a novel protocol for the isolation of human papillary and reticular fibroblast populations via fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) using the two cell surface markers Fibroblast Activation Protein (FAP) and Thymocyte antigen 1 (Thy1)/CD90. This method enables the isolation of pure fibroblast subsets without in vitro manipulation, which was shown to affect gene expression, thus permitting accurate functional analysis of human dermal fibroblast subsets in regard to tissue homeostasis or disease pathology.