Decreased susceptibility to Fas-induced apoptosis of systemic sclerosis dermal fibroblasts

Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Jul;44(7):1667-76. doi: 10.1002/1529-0131(200107)44:7<1667::AID-ART291>3.0.CO;2-Y.


Objective: To determine whether dysregulated apoptosis of systemic sclerosis (SSc) fibroblasts contributes to progressive fibrosis by promoting fibroblast longevity.

Methods: We examined the pattern of fibroblast proliferation and apoptosis in SSc skin lesions and the susceptibility of cultured SSc dermal fibroblasts to apoptosis. Skin biopsy samples from SSc patients and control subjects were used to establish fibroblast cultures and were examined histologically. In skin sections, apoptosis was examined by TUNEL, and proliferation by immunostaining for proliferating cell nuclear antigen. Susceptibility of fibroblasts to apoptosis induced in vitro by different stimuli was studied by TUNEL. Expression of Bcl-2, Bcl-x, and Bax proteins in cultured fibroblasts was studied by Western blotting.

Results: Proliferation of dermal fibroblasts was not observed in normal skin but was present in skin from patients with SSc and other inflammatory skin diseases. Apoptosis of fibroblasts in SSc fibrotic skin lesions was not observed. In vitro, SSc fibroblasts were specifically resistant to apoptosis induced by Fas receptor stimulation but had normal susceptibility to apoptosis induced by nonspecific stimuli (protein kinase inhibition or serum withdrawal). Decreased susceptibility to Fas stimulation was not caused by decreased levels of surface Fas receptor. In SSc fibroblasts, quiescence induced by confluence and serum starvation was followed by an abnormal down-regulation of proapoptotic Bax protein. Up-regulation of the Bax:Bcl-2 ratio in SSc fibroblasts by Bcl-2 antisense oligonucleotides restored their susceptibility to Fas-mediated apoptosis.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that abnormal apoptotic regulation in fibroblasts can contribute to the pathogenesis of progressive fibrosis in SSc. Modulation of Bcl-2-related proteins appears to be a potential target for the development of apoptosis-based antifibrotic strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Apoptosis*
  • Biopsy
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Division
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dermis / pathology*
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / chemistry
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Fibrosis
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / analysis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / biosynthesis
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology*
  • fas Receptor / analysis*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • fas Receptor