Morphea Limited to the Superficial Reticular Dermis: An Underrecognized Histologic Phenomenon

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Morphea (localized scleroderma) is a disease of unknown etiology, presenting as circumscribed areas of indurated skin. Histologically, most cases of morphea feature thickened collagen bundles in the deep reticular dermis, sometimes also extending into the superficial dermis or into the subcutis. We present six cases of morphea in which typical histologic features were restricted to the superficial dermis and contrast these with 27 additional biopsies of conventional morphea seen during the same time period. Sections were stained for elastic fibers, and dermal dendritic cells were labeled with antibodies to CD34 and Factor XIIIa. All six cases showed thickened collagen bundles restricted to the superficial dermis, sparing the deep dermis and without associated evidence of lichen sclerosus et atrophicus (LSA). Dermal elastic fibers were not appreciably decreased in number. There was loss of CD34-positive dermal spindle cells in each of our six superficial examples of morphea, which was restricted to the area of altered collagen in four of the six cases. This report highlights the distinctly uncommon phenomenon of morphea presenting solely as alteration of the superficial reticular dermis, without features of LSA. The selective loss of CD34-labeled spindle cells may provide information regarding the role of these putative immune accessory cells in morphea. Recognition of this manifestation of morphea may be helpful diagnostically.

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