Cellular and molecular aspects of vascular dysfunction in systemic sclerosis

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2010 Aug;6(8):453-60. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2010.102. Epub 2010 Jun 29.


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterized by vascular alterations, activation of the immune system and tissue fibrosis. Vascular insufficiency manifests early in the disease, and although there is evidence of an active repair process, capillaries deteriorate and regress. Factors that contribute to the failure of vascular regeneration might include persistent injury, an imbalance between proangiogenic and antiangiogenic mediators, intrinsic abnormal properties of the cellular components of the vessels, and the presence of fibroblast-derived antiangiogenic factors. In addition, circulating dysfunctional endothelial progenitor cells might further exacerbate vessel deterioration. Abnormal expression of transcription factors, including Fra2 and Fli1, has been proposed to contribute to SSc vasculopathy. Fli1 regulates genes that are involved in vessel maturation and stabilization, suggesting that reduced levels of Fli1 in SSc vasculature could contribute to the development of unstable vessels that are prone to regression. Conversely, proliferating endothelial cells and pericytes, in the presence of an appropriate stimulus, might transdifferentiate into collagen-producing cells, and thus contribute to the initiation of fibrosis. Despite progress in treating the symptoms of vascular disease in SSc, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. An improved knowledge of the molecular and cellular pathways that contribute to SSc vasculopathy could help in the design of effective therapies in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Fos-Related Antigen-2 / genetics
  • Fos-Related Antigen-2 / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Microvessels / metabolism
  • Microvessels / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-fli-1 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-fli-1 / metabolism
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / metabolism
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology
  • Vascular Diseases / complications*
  • Vascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology


  • FLI1 protein, human
  • FOSL2 protein, human
  • Fos-Related Antigen-2
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-fli-1