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Eur Respir J. 2009 Aug;34(2):371-9. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00106008. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension in limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis: a distinctive vasculopathy.

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Department of Pulmonary Diseases, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Systemic sclerosis-associated pulmonary arterial hypertension (SScPAH) has a worse prognosis and response to pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) therapy than idiopathic PAH (IPAH). These differences have not yet been explained. Knowledge concerning histological pulmonary vasculopathy in SScPAH is limited in contrast to IPAH. Therefore, we explored patterns of vasculopathy in SScPAH compared with IPAH. Parameters of vasculopathy were assessed from lung tissue of eight PAH patients with limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis and 11 IPAH patients. Lung tissue was obtained at autopsy (n = 15), explantation (n = 3) and biopsy (n = 1). Pulmonary arterial/arteriolar intimal fibrosis was identified in all SScPAH patients and in three IPAH patients (p = 0.003). Fibrosis of pulmonary veins/venules was found in all SScPAH patients and in three IPAH patients (p = 0.003). In four SScPAH patients, fibrosis of veins/venules was focal and associated with capillary congestion as in pulmonary veno-occlusive disease (PVOD). Of the IPAH patients, 10 had unequivocal evidence of plexogenic arteriopathy compared with none of the SScPAH patients (p = 0.001). SScPAH is characterised by small vessel intimal fibrosis, which is associated with a PVOD-like pattern in some cases. This might explain its different clinical behaviour from IPAH. Small vessel intimal fibrosis may provide clues to elucidation of differences in pathogenetic mechanisms between the groups.

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