The dermal elastic fibre network is the primary effector of skin elasticity, enabling it to extend and recoil many times over the lifetime of the individual. Fibrillin-rich microfibrils (FRMs) constitute integral components of the elastic fibre network, with their distribution showing differential deposition in the papillary dermis across individuals of diverse skin ethnicity. Despite these differential findings in histological presentation, it is not known if skin ethnicity influences FRM ultrastructure. FRMs are evolutionarily highly conserved from jellyfish to man, and regardless of tissue type or species, isolated FRMs have a characteristic ‘beads-on-a-string’ ultrastructural appearance with an average inter-bead distance (or periodicity) of 56 nm. Here, skin biopsies were obtained from the photoprotected buttock of healthy volunteers (18-27 years; African: n=5; European: n=5) and FRMs were isolated from the superficial papillary dermis and deeper reticular dermis and imaged by atomic force microscopy. In the reticular dermis there was no significant difference in FRM ultrastructure
between European and African participants. In contrast, in the more superficial papillary dermis, inter-bead periodicity was significantly larger for FRMs extracted from European participants than from African participants by 2.20 nm (P<0.001). We next assessed whether these differences in FRM ultrastructure were present during early post-natal development by characterizing FRMs from full-thickness neonatal foreskin. Analysis of FRM periodicity identified no significant difference between neonatal cohorts (P=0.865). This data suggests
that at birth, FRMs are developmentally invariant. However, in adults of diverse skin ethnicity, there is a deviation in ultrastructure for the papillary dermal FRMs, that may be acquired during the passage of time from child to adulthood. Understanding the mechanism by which this difference in papillary dermal FRMs arises warrants further study.