“Scleroderma is a common and often devastating condition yet its cause remains mysterious. My greatest hope is that this work will facilitate the development of new and better treatments,” says Harry C. Dietz, M.D., the Victor A. McKusick Professor of Genetics and director of the Johns Hopkins William S. Smilow Center for Marfan Syndrome Research.
Also known as systemic sclerosis, scleroderma generally affects previously healthy young adults, causing scarring of skin and internal organs that can lead to heart and lung failure. “Most often individuals with scleroderma do not have other affected family members, precluding use of genetic techniques to map the underlying genes. Instead we turned to a rare but inherited form of isolated skin fibrosis called stiff skin syndrome, hoping to gain a foothold regarding cellular mechanisms that might prove relevant to both conditions,” says Dietz.
A number of clues led Dietz and his team to strongly suspect a role for the connective tissue protein fibrillin-1 in these skin conditions. First, excess collagen is a hallmark feature of both stiff skin syndrome and scleroderma. While studying Marfan syndrome, a condition caused by a deficiency of fibrillin-1, the researchers discovered that fibrillin-1 regulates the activity of TGFbeta, a molecule that induces cells to make more collagen. Second, other researchers have shown that duplication of a segment within the fibrillin-1 gene is associated with skin fibrosis in mice. And third, Dietz treated a patient at Johns Hopkins who had both stiff skin syndrome and eye problems associated with Marfan syndrome. “This seemed too much of a coincidence,” he says.
So Dietz’s team examined patients with stiff skin syndrome and found them to have excessive amounts of fibrillin-1 in the skin. The researchers then sequenced the fibrillin-1 gene in these same patients and found all the stiff skin syndrome mutations clustered in a single region of the fibrillin-1 protein known to interact with neighboring cells. Further examination showed that these mutations prevent fibrillin-1 from interacting with neighboring cells and lead to increased amounts and activity of TGFbeta, which causes excessive collagen outside cells.
The researchers then examined biopsies from patients with scleroderma and found all of the abnormalities seen in stiff skin syndrome. “It appears that fibriillin-1 helps to inform cells about the quality of their surroundings and also provides a mechanism — by concentrating TGFbeta — to induce extra cellular matrix production if the cell senses a deficiency,” says Dietz. “A breakdown in signaling coupled with excessive fibrillin-1 and TGFbeta leads to a perfect storm for skin fibrosis in stiff skin syndrome.”
While it remains unknown what triggers similar molecular events in scleroderma, these findings do suggest a number of potential treatment strategies, says Dietz.
This study was funded by the Scleroderma Research Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Smilow Center for Marfan Syndrome Research, National Marfan Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Shriners Hospital for Children.
Authors on the paper are P. J. Couke and A. De Paepe of Ghent University, Belgium; D. Riegert-Johnson of Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida; S. Iqbal, P. Whiteman and P. Handford of University of Oxford; V. McConnell of Northern Ireland Regional Genetics Centre, Belfast, Ireland; C. R. Chillakuri and H. J. Mardon of John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, UK; D. Macaya of GeneDx, Gaithersburg, Maryland; E. C. Davis of McGill University, Montreal, Canada; D. R. Keene and L. Y. Sakai of Shriners Hospital for Children, Portland, Oregon; B. L. Loeys, E. E. Gerber, D. P. Judge, F. Wigley and Dietz of Johns Hopkins.On the Web:
Audrey Huang | idw
Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine