• extracellular matrix;
  • Hyal-1;
  • hyaluronan;
  • hyaluronidase;
  • scleroderma


Background  Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is characterized by aberrations of extracellular matrix deposition. These changes parallel early stages of wound healing when increased deposition of hyaluronan (HA) and collagen occur. Both processes result ultimately in the formation of fibrotic scar tissue. Activities of HA synthase and hyaluronidase, the enzymes that synthesize and degrade HA, are critical in HA turnover. Both become elevated whenever increased matrix deposition occurs. HA deposition occurs early in wound healing, and increases are documented in the circulation of scleroderma patients. We postulated that elevated HA and hyaluronidase may both be indicators of early-stage disease in scleroderma, in parallel with early changes observed in wound healing. In an attempt to reduce HA accumulation and the associated fibrosis in scleroderma tissues, topical and intravenous hyaluronidase administrations have been used in the past as treatment modalities, with occasional success. This also suggested that hyaluronidase enzyme activity is involved in the disease process. It is now recognized that the hyaluronidases constitute an enzyme family. The somatic hyaluronidase Hyal-1 is the only activity present in human serum.

Objectives  To determine levels of HA and Hyal-1 in the sera of scleroderma patients at various stages of their disease.

Methods  Levels of HA and Hyal-1 activity were determined in 25 scleroderma patients. Subjects were separated into two groups, those in the early stage with duration of disease of 2 years or less, and late-stage patients with disease duration of more than 2 years.

Results  In early-stage scleroderma, levels of HA were elevated significantly, as predicted, in comparison with late-stage patients and controls. Late-stage levels of HA were comparable with those found in control sera. By contrast, levels of Hyal-1 activity were normal in early-stage patients, similar to those in controls, but were decreased in late-stage patients, falling even below those of controls.

Conclusions  We have confirmed that circulating levels of HA are elevated in scleroderma, but show for the first time that such elevations occur predominantly in early-stage disease. Patients with late-stage disease have decreased serum Hyal-1 activity, perhaps reflecting decreased levels of HA turnover. This study also represents the first time that hyaluronidase activity levels have been determined in scleroderma patients.