Earliest Phase of Systemic Sclerosis Typified by Increased Levels of Inflammatory Proteins in the Serum.

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

Patients with definite systemic sclerosis (SSc) who lack fibrotic features can be stratified into an intermediate stage of disease severity between preclinical/early SSc (EaSSc) and fibrotic subsets (limited cutaneous SSc [lcSSc] and diffuse cutaneous SSc [dcSSc]). The aim of the present study was to molecularly characterize nonfibrotic SSc and EaSSc on the basis of a broad panel of serum markers of inflammation and tissue damage, in order to increase the knowledge of the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying SSc progression before the development of fibrosis.

METHODS

An 88-plex immunoassay was performed in serum samples from a discovery cohort composed of 21 patients with EaSSc (meeting the LeRoy and Medsger criteria), 15 with nonfibrotic SSc (meeting the American College of Rheumatology/European League Against Rheumatism 2013 classification criteria, without skin or lung fibrosis), and 11 healthy controls. Analyte concentrations that were consistently significantly different at the exploratory P value threshold of 0.1 were selected for replication analysis in a larger group composed of 47 patients with EaSSc, 48 with nonfibrotic SSc, and 43 healthy controls, as well as 51 patients with lcSSc and 35 with dcSSc. The value of the replicated molecules in predicting SSc progression (at a family-wise error rate of 0.05) was tested.

RESULTS

Based on the results of the explorative analysis, 16 molecules were selected for testing in the replication set. The results showed that CXCL10, CXCL11, tumor necrosis factor receptor type II (TNFRII), and chitinase 3-like protein 1 levels were significantly increased in patients with EaSSc and those with nonfibrotic SSc as compared to healthy controls. The disease in patients with high concentrations of CXCL10 and TNFRII was also characterized by a faster rate of progression from EaSSc and from nonfibrotic SSc to worse disease stages.

CONCLUSION

SSc patients with preclinical/early SSc and those with established, yet nonfibrotic, disease exhibit clear molecular alterations that are associated with faster rates of disease evolution. These data open novel avenues for disease interception in SSc.

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