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Arthritis Rheum. 2002 Nov;46(11):2990-9.

Association of novel polymorphisms with the expression of SPARC in normal fibroblasts and with susceptibility to scleroderma.

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Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics, University of Texas-Houston Medical School, 6431 Fannin, MSB 5.270, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Fibroblasts from patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) have an activated phenotype characterized by increased synthesis of extracellular matrix (ECM) components. SPARC (secreted protein, acidic and rich in cysteine) regulates the deposition or assembly of ECM components. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of SPARC in SSc susceptibility by functional and genetic association studies.


Complementary DNA (cDNA) microarrays were used to obtain gene expression data on cultured dermal fibroblasts from SSc patients. SPARC protein levels were assessed by Western blotting. Five polymorphic microsatellite markers within 5 cM of the SPARC gene (chromosome 5q31-32) were genotyped in Choctaw Indians, a population previously shown to have a high prevalence of SSc. Discovery of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) was accomplished by sequencing the SPARC cDNA. These SNPs were then genotyped in a multi-ethnic cohort of SSc patients to determine potential associations with disease susceptibility in a broader population of SSc patients, as well as with various clinical and immunologic features of SSc. The functional relevance of these SNPs with regard to transcript stability of SPARC was also assessed.


Microarrays demonstrated increased expression of SPARC, along with other ECM genes, in SSc patients compared with normal controls. SSc fibroblasts also had increased SPARC protein levels. Three of 5 microsatellite markers near SPARC showed significant associations with SSc in the Choctaw SSc patients. Sequencing of SPARC cDNA revealed 3 novel SNPs in the 3'-untranslated region at +998 (C-->G), +1551 (C-->G), and +1922 (T-->G). Homozygosity for the C allele at SNP +998 was significantly increased in SSc patients across ethnic lines. SPARC SNPs +1551 and +1922 demonstrated correlations with Raynaud's phenomenon and pulmonary fibrosis, respectively. Functional studies of SPARC SNP +998 in normal fibroblast cultures suggested a correlation between the SNP +998 C allele polymorphism and an increased messenger RNA half-life.


This study is the first to show that polymorphisms of the SPARC gene are associated with susceptibility to, and clinical manifestations of, SSc and that they may also be functionally important in influencing SPARC expression in skin fibroblasts.

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