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Keywords:

  • systemic sclerosis;
  • scleroderma;
  • endothelial cell;
  • endothelial progenitor cell;
  • angiogenesis;
  • vasculogenesis;
  • vascular repair

Abstract

  • • 
    Introduction
    • - 
      Evidence for endothelial disease and loss of capillaries in SSc
    • - 
      Angiogenesis and vasculogenesis
  • • 
    Mechanisms and biomarkers of endothelial damage in SSc
  • • 
    Mechanisms of defective angiogenesis in SSc
  • • 
    Mechanisms of defective vasculogenesis in SSc
  • • 
    Conclusions and perspectives on vascular treatment strategies

Systemic sclerosis (SSc, scleroderma) is a chronic, multisystem connective tissue disorder affecting the skin and various internal organs. Although the disease is characterized by a triad of widespread microangiopathy, fibrosis and autoimmunity, increasing evidence indicates that vascular damage is a primary event in the pathogenesis of SSc. The progressive vascular injury includes persistent endothelial cell activation/damage and apoptosis, intimal thickening, delamination, vessel narrowing and obliteration. These profound vascular changes lead to vascular tone dysfunction and reduced capillary blood flow, with consequent tissue ischemia and severe clinical manifestations, such as digital ulceration or amputation, pulmonary arterial hypertension and scleroderma renal crisis. The resulting tissue hypoxia induces complex cellular and molecular mechanisms in the attempt to recover endothelial cell function and tissue perfusion. Nevertheless, in SSc patients there is no evidence of significant angiogenesis and the disease evolves towards chronic tissue ischemia, with progressive and irreversible structural changes in multiple vascular beds culminating in the loss of capillaries. A severe imbalance between pro-angiogenic and angiostatic factors may also lead to impaired angiogenic response during SSc. Besides insufficient angiogenesis, defective vasculogenesis with altered numbers and functional defects of bone marrow-derived endothelial progenitor cells may contribute to the vascular pathogenesis of SSc. The purpose of this article is to review the contribution of recent studies to the understanding of the complex mechanisms of impaired vascular repair in SSc. Indeed, understanding the pathophysiology of SSc-associated vascular disease may be the key in dissecting the disease pathogenesis and developing novel therapies. Either angiogenic or vasculogenic mechanisms may potentially become in the future the target of therapeutic strategies to promote capillary regeneration in SSc.