Myofibroblast induction and microvascular alteration in scleroderma lung fibrosis

Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2004 Nov-Dec;22(6):733-42.


Objective: Scleroderma (SSc) is an autoimmune connective tissue disorder characterized by progressive fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. The leading cause of death in SSc patients is pulmonary dysfunction as a result of interstitial fibrosis and pulmonary vasculopathy. Our objective was to evaluate histopathological abnormalities associated with the development of pulmonary fibrosis in SSc.

Methods: Postmortem SSc lung tissue from various stages of fibrosis and tissue from normal lung were analyzed by Masson's trichrome staining and immunohistochemistry. Monoclonal antibodies against smooth muscle-alpha actin (myofibroblast marker), von Willebrand Factor, platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1 (endothelial cell markers), or caldesmon (smooth muscle cell marker) were employed.

Results: We found that in the early active stages of SSc lung fibrosis two major types of cellular abnormalities occur. One is the induction of a large number of smooth muscle alpha-actin-positive myofibroblasts in interstitia. The other is the excessive formation of alveolar capillaries (hypervascularity) accompanied by an increase in the number of microvascular endothelial cells. The vascular abnormality also involves the development of microvessels that are irregular in size and shape. However, the population of myofibroblasts and capillary endothelial cells decline as the fibrosis progresses to its most marked, later stages.

Conclusion: We conclude that the induction of myofibroblasts and the overdevelopment of capillary microvessels characterize the progression of lung fibrosis in SSc. Using these histological alterations as criteria, therefore we have divided the fibrosis formed in the SSc lungs into four pathological stages. These results suggest that both fibroblast overproliferation and vascular abnormality play an important role in the pathogenesis of lung fibrosis in SSc.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microcirculation
  • Middle Aged
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / pathology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / blood supply
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology
  • Pulmonary Circulation*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology*