Although a multisystem disease, systemic sclerosis (SSc) most commonly affects the skin. The skin lesion is characterized by progressive changes, chief amongst which are vascular abnormalities, including endothelial cell (EC) injury and death, and dermal fibrosis. The pathogenesis of the vascular changes, and their relationship to dermal fibrosis, is poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to examine the potential role of nitric oxide (NO)-related free radical production, as part of an assessment of mechanisms leading to endothelial damage. Histologically graded skin biopsies from 33 patients with SSc (ten grade 0, ten grade 1, eight grade 2, and five grade 3) and eight healthy controls were reacted with antibodies against constitutive (eNOS) and inducible (iNOS) forms of nitric oxide synthase and nitrotyrosine. The degree of staining was assessed using a semi-quantitative system and a staining score was developed for the ECs of different vessel types in different areas of dermis at all grades. In biopsies from patients with SSc, superficial microvessel ECs showed a peak of eNOS expression in grade 1 skin which fell as the grade increased. By contrast, iNOS staining increased with the grade of skin lesion, a pattern paralleled by endothelial nitrotyrosine expression. From these findings, it is concluded that a metabolic switch occurs in dermal ECs from endothelial to cytokine inducible forms of NOS during the progression of the skin lesion of SSc. iNOS is a potent inducer of NO production which, in turn, can mediate NO free radical production. At a time of development of the SSc skin lesion when previous studies report evidence of EC damage, the cells express immunodetectable nitrotyrosine, a marker of NO-mediated free radical injury. The data suggest a role for iNOS-induced NO production in EC damage in SSc.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.