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Introduction: It is still an enigma that some patients develop rectal prolapse whilst others with similar risk factors do not. Biomechanical assessment of the skin may provide further insight into the aetiology of this complex condition. Elastin fibres are an abundant and integral part of many extracellular matrices and are especially critical for providing the property of elastic recoil to tissues. The significance of elastin fibres is clearly reflected by the numerous human conditions in which a skin phenotype occurs as a result of elastin fibre abnormalities. Method: Between January and June 2013, skin specimens were obtained prospectively during surgery on 20 patients with rectal prolapse and 21 patients without prolapse undergoing surgery for other indications. Expression levels of elastin in the skin were measured by Orcein staining, and Image J. Tensile tests were performed using the Zwick Roell device, with custom ceramic clamps. For statistical analysis, Student’s t test was used. Results: Histological analysis of prolapse vs control showed percentage dermal elastin fibres of 9 vs 5.8 % (p = 0.001) in males and 6.5 vs 5.3 % (p = 0.05) in females. Patients with more severe prolapse (external) had a significantly (p = 0.05) higher percentage dermal elastin fibres 6.9 vs 6.1 % than internal prolapse. Young’s modulus of patients with prolapse was lower in males (3.3 vs 2.8, p = 0.05) and females (3.1 vs 2.7, p = 0.05). Conclusion: Patients with prolapse have a higher concentration of elastin fibres in the skin, and these differences are quantitatively demonstrated through mechanical testing. This suggests that the aetiology may be a result of a dysfunction of elastin fibre assembly.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Colorectal Disease

Publication Date





1117 - 1122