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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2005 May;44(5):607-13. Epub 2005 Feb 22.

Damage of cutaneous peripheral nervous system evolves differently according to the disease phase and subset of systemic sclerosis.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Histology and Forensic Medicine, University of Florence, Viale Morgagni, 85, 50134, Florence, Italy.



Evidence shows that peripheral nervous system (PNS) is involved in systemic sclerosis (SSc), but few morphological studies have assessed the ultrastructural pathological modifications. The aim was to study ultrastructural modifications of skin PNS fibres in SSc according to subsets [limited SSc (lSSc) and diffuse SSc (dSSc)] and phases (early and advanced) of the disease.


Skin biopsies were taken from the forearms of 23 SSc patients (11 lSSc and 12 dSSc) and 10 controls. Each biopsy was processed for transmission electron microscopy (TEM).


At TEM, observation in skin from early lSSc, signs of inflammation were evident, while PNS fibres were not damaged. The microvascular wall showed hypertrophic endothelial cells bulging into the lumen. In advanced lSSc, fibrosis prevailed on inflammation and slight ultrastructural alterations of PNS fibres were evident in the papillary derma. In early dSSc, ultrastructural alterations of PNS fibres, similar to those observed in the advanced phase of lSSc, were found together with signs of inflammation and fibrosis. In advanced dSSc, in the papillary and reticular dermis PNS fibres were reduced and showed relevant ultrastructural alterations.


In SSc, PNS ultrastructure damage is linked to the progression and severity of skin involvement. The alterations evolve from the early to the advanced phase mainly in the diffuse subset. In particular, the severe PNS lesions found in advanced lSSc are already present and widely diffuse in early dSSc and the microvascular involvement in early lSSc seems to precede the modification of the PNS in the skin. Thus, an early therapeutic approach can be useful to reduce the progression of PNS and skin damage in SSc patients.

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