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Keywords:

  • atomic force microscopy;
  • cytoskeleton;
  • extracellular matrix;
  • fibroblast;
  • morphea;
  • systemic sclerosis

Abstract

Overproduction of extracellular matrix components by fibroblasts plays a key role in the pathogenesis of scleroderma. To investigate whether these functional alterations are accompanied by changes in the mechanical properties and morphology of fibroblast, atomic force microscopy was applied to dermal fibroblasts derived either from scleroderma patients or from healthy donors. No significant morphological differences could be observed among the different cell strains showing long cytoskeleton fibres similar in length and irregularly distributed protrusions on the cell surface. In contrast, significant differences in cellular stiffness of dermal fibroblasts derived from scleroderma lesions were detected. Compared to fibroblasts from healthy donors, diseased cells were characterized by a reduced elastic constant both when the global and local mechanical properties were probed. The altered stiffness of scleroderma fibroblasts may be important in the pathogenesis of the disease as it could lead to the abnormal response of fibroblasts to mechanical stimuli.