Objective: To explore the relationship between biomarkers of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), interferon (IFN)-regulated gene expression, and the alternative activation pathway in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were purified from healthy controls, patients with idiopathic PAH, and SSc patients (classified as having diffuse cutaneous SSc, limited cutaneous SSc [lcSSc] without PAH, and lcSSc with PAH). IFN-regulated and "PAH biomarker" genes were compared after supervised hierarchical clustering. Messenger RNA levels of selected IFN-regulated genes (Siglec1 and MX1), biomarker genes (IL13RA1, CCR1, and JAK2), and the alternative activation marker gene (MRC1) were analyzed on PBMCs and on CD14- and CD14+ cell populations. Interleukin-13 (IL-13) and IL-4 concentrations were measured in plasma by immunoassay. CD14, MRC1, and IL13RA1 surface expression was analyzed by flow cytometry.
Results: Increased PBMC expression of both IFN-regulated and biomarker genes distinguished SSc patients from healthy controls. Expression of genes in the biomarker cluster, but not in the IFN-regulated cluster, distinguished lcSSc with PAH from lcSSc without PAH. The genes CCR1 (P<0.001) and JAK2 (P<0.001) were expressed more highly in lcSSc patients with PAH compared with controls and mainly by CD14+ cells. MRC1 expression was increased exclusively in lcSSc patients with PAH (P<0.001) and correlated strongly with pulmonary artery pressure (r=0.52, P=0.03) and higher mortality (P=0.02). MRC1 expression was higher in CD14+ cells and was greatly increased by stimulation with IL-13. IL-13 concentrations in plasma were most highly increased in lcSSc patients with PAH (P<0.001).
Conclusion: IFN-regulated and biomarker genes represent distinct, although related, clusters in lcSSc patients with PAH. MRC1, a marker for the effect of IL-13 on alternative monocyte/macrophage activation, is associated with this severe complication and is related to mortality.
Copyright © 2011 by the American College of Rheumatology.