Background: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a common complication for individuals with limited systemic sclerosis (lSSc). The identification and characterization of biomarkers for lSSc-PAH should lead to less invasive screening, a better understanding of pathogenesis, and improved treatment.
Methods and findings: Forty-nine PBMC samples were obtained from 21 lSSc subjects without PAH (lSSc-noPAH), 15 lSSc subjects with PAH (lSSc-PAH), and 10 healthy controls; three subjects provided PBMCs one year later. Genome-wide gene expression was measured for each sample. The levels of 89 cytokines were measured in serum from a subset of subjects by Multi-Analyte Profiling (MAP) immunoassays. Gene expression clearly distinguished lSSc samples from healthy controls, and separated lSSc-PAH from lSSc-NoPAH patients. Real-time quantitative PCR confirmed increased expression of 9 genes (ICAM1, IFNGR1, IL1B, IL13Ra1, JAK2, AIF1, CCR1, ALAS2, TIMP2) in lSSc-PAH patients. Increased circulating cytokine levels of inflammatory mediators such as TNF-alpha, IL1-beta, ICAM-1, and IL-6, and markers of vascular injury such as VCAM-1, VEGF, and von Willebrand Factor were found in lSSc-PAH subjects.
Conclusions and significance: The gene expression and cytokine profiles of lSSc-PAH patients suggest the presence of activated monocytes, and show markers of vascular injury and inflammation. These genes and factors could serve as biomarkers of PAH involvement in lSSc.