Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an intractable autoimmune disease with unmet medical needs. Conventional immunosuppressive therapies have modest efficacy and obvious side effects. Targeted therapies with small molecules and antibodies remain under investigation in small pilot studies. The major breakthrough was the development of autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) to treat refractory SSc with rapidly progressive internal organ involvement. However, AHSCT is contraindicated in patients with advanced visceral involvement. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) which are characterized by immunosuppressive, antifibrotic and proangiogenic capabilities may be a promising alternative option for the treatment of SSc. Multiple preclinical and clinical studies on the use of MSCs to treat SSc are underway. However, there are several unresolved limitations and safety concerns of MSC transplantation, such as immune rejections and risks of tumour formation, respectively. Since the major therapeutic potential of MSCs has been ascribed to their paracrine signalling, the use of MSC-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs)/secretomes/exosomes as a "cell-free" therapy might be an alternative option to circumvent the limitations of MSC-based therapies. In the present review, we overview the current knowledge regarding the therapeutic efficacy of MSCs in SSc, focusing on progresses reported in preclinical and clinical studies using MSCs, as well as challenges and future directions of MSC transplantation as a treatment option for patients with SSc.
Keywords: Autoimmune disease; Extracellular vesicles; Immunomodulation; Mesenchymal stem cells; Systemic sclerosis.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.