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Clin Immunol. 2002 Jan;102(1):77-83.

Animal model of sclerotic skin. V: Increased expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin in fibroblastic cells in bleomycin-induced scleroderma.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8519, Japan.


Scleroderma is a connective tissue disorder with unknown etiology. Myofibroblasts appear during fibrotic processes such as scleroderma, hypertrophic scarring, and wound healing. We previously established a mouse model for scleroderma by local injections of bleomycin. To determine the phenotype of the fibroblasts in sclerotic skin after bleomycin treatment, we examined the expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA), a marker for myofibroblasts, in lesional skin as well as in fibrous lung in this model. Dermal sclerosis was induced by daily local injections of bleomycin (100 microg/ml) for 3 weeks in C3H mice. Immunohistochemical examination showed that alpha-SMA-reactive cells were detectable on fibroblastic cells in bleomycin-injected skin at 1 week. There was a significant increase in the immunoreactive fibroblastic cells for alpha-SMA in lesional skin in parallel with the induction of dermal sclerosis. After 3 weeks' treatment with bleomycin, the number of alpha-SMA-reactive fibroblasts showed an 11-fold increase compared with that in control PBS-treated mice. alpha-SMA-positive cells were also detected in lung parenchyma after bleomycin treatment. Following concomitant treatment with anti-transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) antibody with bleomycin, the number of alpha-SMA-positive fibroblastic cells was significantly reduced up to 50%, along with the reduction of dermal sclerosis. To confirm the protein level of alpha-SMA, immunoblotting was carried out. Results showed an increase of alpha-SMA expression in lesional skin at 3 weeks of bleomycin treatment, which was reduced following anti-TGF-beta antibody treatment. These data suggest that fibroblastic cells are phenotypically altered into myofibroblasts during the fibrotic process in the experimental model of bleomycin-induced scleroderma, which was considered mediated, for the most part, by TGF-beta. Blockade of TGF-beta may be a therapeutic intervention for scleroderma.

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