Ultrastructural and histological findings on examination of skin in osteogenesis imperfecta: a novel study


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Abstract

Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a heterogeneous group of inherited disorders of bone formation, resulting in low bone mass and an increased propensity for fractures. It is a variable condition with a range of clinical severities. The histological and ultrastructural findings in the skin of patients with OI have not been described in detail in the previously published literature. Although protein analysis of cultured fibroblasts has historically been used in the diagnostic work-up of OI patients, other aspects of skin examination are not routinely performed as part of the diagnostic pathway in patients with OI. The aims of this study were to perform histological and ultrastructural examination of skin biopsies in patients with OI. This was to identify common and distinguishing features in the numerous genetically distinct subtypes of OI and compare the findings with those in patients who did not present with fractures, and to enable the use of the results thus obtained to aid in the diagnostic work-up of patients with OI. As part of a larger research study set-up to identify clinical features and natural history in patients with atypical features of OI, skin biopsy and examination (histology and electron microscopy) were undertaken. Genetic analysis and ancillary investigations were also performed to identify similarities within this group and to differentiate this group from the ‘normal’ population. At the end of this study, we were able to demonstrate that the histological and electron microscopic findings on a skin biopsy may be an indicator of the likelihood of identifying a pathogenic mutation in type 1 collagen genes. This is because patients with specific findings on examination, such as elastic fibre area fraction (on histological analysis), collagen fibril diameter variability, deviation from the expected mean and collagen flowers (on electron microscopy), are more likely to be positive on genetic analyses. This has, in turn, provided more insight into the pathways to direct gene testing and has reinforced the need for accurate phenotyping before undertaking further genetic investigations. The morphometric assessment of elastic fibre area fraction and ultrastructural findings from this study have provided us with a better understanding of OI and insights into the possible mechanism of these changes in the skin. Correlation of skin findings with the clinical phenotype as well as genetic testing has enabled understanding of the molecular pathogenesis and translation of changes at the genomic level to clinical phenotype.

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