Background: Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by vasculopathy and fibrosis, which can be subclassified into diffuse cutaneous (dSSc) and limited cutaneous (lSSc) subtypes. Previous studies suggest that an increase in monocytes can be a hallmark of various inflammatory diseases, including SSc. Our aim was to evaluate circulating blood monocyte subpopulations (classical, intermediate and non-classical) of SSc patients and their possible association with disease manifestations.
Methods: Fifty consecutive patients fulfilling the 2013 ACR/EULAR classification criteria for SSc were included in a cross-sectional study. Monocyte subpopulations were identified based on their expression of CD64, CD14 and CD16, evaluated by flow cytometry, and were correlated with the clinical characteristics of the patients; furthermore, the expression of HLA-DR, CD163, CD169 and CD206 in the monocytes was studied. Thirty-eight age- and sex-matched healthy individuals were recruited as a control group.
Results: SSc patients had an increased number of circulating peripheral blood monocytes with an activated phenotypic profile compared to healthy subjects. Absolute counts of CD16+ (intermediary and non-classical) monocyte subpopulations were higher in SSc patients. There was no association between monocyte subpopulations and the clinical manifestations evaluated.
Conclusion: We identified higher counts of all monocyte subpopulations in SSc patients compared to the control group. There was no association between monocyte subpopulations and major fibrotic manifestations. CD169 was shown to be more representative in dSSc, being a promising marker for differentiating disease subtypes.
Keywords: Flow cytometry; Monocyte subpopulations; Monocytes; Pathogenesis; Systemic sclerosis.