Limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis skin demonstrates distinct molecular subsets separated by a cardiovascular development gene expression signature

Emma C. Derrett-Smith, Viktor Martyanov, Cecilia B. Chighizola, Pia Moinzadeh, Corrado Campochiaro, Korsa Khan, Tammara A. Wood, Pier Luigi Meroni, David J. Abraham, Voon H. Ong, Robert Lafyatis, Michael L. Whitfield, Christopher P. Denton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma) is an uncommon autoimmune rheumatic disease characterised by autoimmunity, vasculopathy and fibrosis. Gene expression profiling distinguishes scleroderma from normal skin, and can detect different subsets of disease, with potential to identify prognostic biomarkers of organ involvement or response to therapy. We have performed gene expression profiling in skin samples from patients with limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc). Methods: Total RNA was extracted from clinically uninvolved skin biopsies of 15 patients with lcSSc and 8 healthy controls (HC). Gene expression profiling was performed on a DNA oligonucleotide microarray chip. Differentially expressed genes (DEG) were identified using significance analysis of microarrays (SAM). Functional enrichment analysis of gene signatures was done via g:Profiler. Results: There were 218 DEG between lcSSc and HC samples (false discovery rate <10%): 181/218 DEG were upregulated in lcSSc samples. Hierarchical clustering of DEG suggested the presence of two separate groups of lcSSc samples: "limited 1" and "limited 2". The limited-1 group (13 samples, 10 unique patients) showed upregulation of genes involved in cell adhesion, cardiovascular system (CVS) development, extracellular matrix and immune and inflammatory response. The CVS development signature was of particular interest as its genes showed very strong enrichment in response to wounding, response to transforming growth factor (TGF)-β and kinase cascade. Neither limited-2 samples (six samples, five unique patients) nor HC samples showed functional enrichment. There were no significant differences in demographic or clinical parameters between these two groups. These results were confirmed using a second independent cohort. Conclusions: Our study suggests the presence of molecular subsets in lcSSc based on gene expression profiling of biopsies from uninvolved skin. This may reflect important differences in pathogenesis within these patient groups. We identify differential expression of a subset of genes that relate to CVS and are enriched in fibrotic signalling. This may shed light on mechanisms of vascular disease in SSc. The enrichment in profibrotic profile suggests that dysregulated gene expression may contribute to vasculopathy and fibrosis in different disease subsets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number156
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 4 2017


  • Genetics
  • Microarray
  • Scleroderma
  • Systemic sclerosis
  • Vasculopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology

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