Background: Microvascular lesions are a predominant feature in systemic sclerosis (SSc) and seem to play a central pathogenetic role. Recently, we graded scleroderma microangiopathy by nailfold videocapillaroscopy (NVC) into three NVC patterns (early, active and late). The aim of the present study was to confirm, in a larger number of SSc patients, the presence of three patterns of microvascular damage, and to detect any possible relationship between these patterns and both specific serum autoantibodies and the subsets of cutaneous involvement.
Methods: Two hundred and forty-one consecutive patients (227 women and 14 men) affected by SSc were recruited. One hundred and forty-eight patients were affected by limited cutaneous SSc (lSSc) and 93 patients by diffuse cutaneous SSc (dSSc). The ages at onset of Raynaud's phenomenon (RP) and SSc, the durations of RP and SSc, ANA and antitopoisomerase I (anti-Scl70) and anticentromere (ACA) antibodies were investigated in all patients. The SSc patients were subdivided on the basis of the NVC pattern into three groups.
Results: A statistically significant correlation was found between the NVC patterns and the durations of both RP and SSc (P<0.001). Enlarged and giant capillaries, together with haemorrhages, constituted the earliest NVC finding in SSc (early NVC pattern). These abnormalities were mostly expressed in the active NVC pattern. Loss of capillaries, ramified capillaries and vascular architectural disorganization were increased in the late NVC pattern. Age and the duration of both RP and SSc were lower in 24 patients complaining of RP alone. Anti-Scl70 antibodies were statistically less frequent in the early vs both the active and the late NVC pattern, whereas no significant correlation was found between the presence of anti-Scl70 antibodies and the duration of either RP or SSc. ACA positivity was more frequent in patients with longer RP duration. Patients with lSSc had shorter SSc duration and showed the early or active NVC pattern more frequently. Conversely, patients with dSSc showed longer disease duration and mostly showed the late NVC pattern.
Conclusions: NVC is an appropriate tool for differential diagnosis between primary and secondary RP through the clear recognition of the early NVC scleroderma pattern. This study confirms, in a large number of SSc patients, the existence of three distinct NVC patterns that might reflect the evolution of SSc microangiopathy. The presence of anti-Scl70 antibodies seems be related to earlier expression of the active and late NVC patterns of SSc microvascular damage. The presence of ACA seems to be related to delayed expression of the late NVC pattern.