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Arthritis Res Ther. 2011 Feb 28;13(1):R35. doi: 10.1186/ar3267.

Histopathological cutaneous alterations in systemic sclerosis: a clinicopathological study.

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  • 1Department of Rheumatology, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, BE-9000 Gent, Belgium.



The aims of the present study were to identify histopathological parameters which are linked to local clinical skin disease at two distinct anatomical sites in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with skin involvement (limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis (lcSSc) or diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (dcSSc)) and to determine the sensitivity of SSc specific histological alterations, focusing on SSc patients without clinical skin involvement (limited SSc (lSSc)).


Histopathological alterations were systematically scored in skin biopsies of 53 consecutive SSc patients (dorsal forearm and upper inner arm) and 18 controls (upper inner arm). Clinical skin involvement was evaluated using the modified Rodnan skin score. In patients with lcSSc or dcSSc, associations of histopathological parameters with local clinical skin involvement were determined by generalised estimation equation modelling.


The hyalinised collagen score, the myofibroblast score, the mean epidermal thickness, the mononuclear cellular infiltration and the frequency of focal exocytosis differed significantly between biopsies with and without local clinical skin involvement. Except for mononuclear cellular infiltration, all of the continuous parameters correlated with the local clinical skin score at the dorsal forearm. Parakeratosis, myofibroblasts and intima proliferation were present in a minority of the SSc biopsies, but not in controls. No differences were found between lSSc and controls.


Several histopathological parameters are linked to local clinical skin disease. SSc-specific histological alterations have a low diagnostic sensitivity.

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