Background: Indirect-immunofluorescence studies of skin and cultured dermal fibroblasts from patients with the Marfan syndrome demonstrate apparent deficiency of one element of connective tissue--the microfibrillar-fiber system--in assays using specific antibodies against fibrillin, a major microfibrillar protein. This study was designed to test whether these immunostaining abnormalities are consistent and diagnostic features of the disease.
Methods: We studied patients with either the Marfan syndrome or various other inherited connective-tissue disorders and normal subjects according to a single-blind protocol in which coded samples of skin, fibroblast cultures, or both were analyzed without knowledge of the clinical diagnosis and classified as "Marfan" or "non-Marfan" before the sample codes were broken.
Results: Of the 27 patients with the Marfan syndrome, 24 were correctly identified by the decreased content of microfibrillar fibers in their skin, cultured fibroblasts, or both; in contrast, 19 of 25 patients with other heritable disorders of connective tissue and all 13 normal subjects were correctly classified as "non-Marfan" by these assays (P less than 0.001).
Conclusions: These results document consistent, relatively specific abnormalities of microfibrillar fibers in the Marfan syndrome. The biomechanical incompetence of these structural elements, due to quantitative or qualitative abnormalities, may account for the pleiotropic clinical manifestations of the disease. Therefore, various defects in the expression, structure, assembly, or degradation of the constituent structural glycoprotein (or glycoproteins) of microfibrils may be implicated in the causation of the Marfan syndrome.