Study Links IL-1 Cytokines to Increased Scarring in Systemic Scleroderma Patients

According to a publication from Scleroderma News, a study recently published in Clinical & Transitional Immunology suggests that certain cytokines (small proteins that play an important role in communication between cells) in the IL-1 family may play significant roles in the development of systemic scleroderma (SSc).

Of particular note was the cytokine IL‐1β, which the Immunology study suggests may contribute to pronounced tissue scarring in those with SSc.

About Systemic Scleroderma

Systemic scleroderma is a type of autoimmune disorder that has fibrotic (scarring) effects on the skin and other important organs. Autoimmune disorders are caused by malfunctioning immune systems that attack otherwise healthy tissues or organs.

Scarring and subsequent hardening of the skin and other affected organs (fibrosis) is caused by an overabundance of collagen. Collagen is a tough protein that makes up ligaments, tendons, skin, and muscles. Even at healthy levels, collagen is the most abundant protein in humans.

The organs most commonly affected are the esophagus, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Serious complications can arise as a result, including difficulty swallowing, high blood pressure, or kidney dysfunction.

The exact method of inheritance isn’t completely understood. However, scientists have identified several different groups of genes they believe to be related to the development of SSc – the most significant of which is the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex. The HLA complex helps the immune system differentiate between pathogens and friendly proteins.

IL-1 Cytokines Might Play a Role

Unlike other autoimmune diseases, no cytokine profile has been established for systemic scleroderma. That means there’s currently no extant cytokine “fingerprint” for SSc like there is for other conditions.

The study published in Immunology involved 105 individuals with SSc and 47 healthy participants as a control arm. The vast majority were caucasian (83.5%) and female (82.9%). Researchers focused on the Interleukin-1 (IL-1) family of cytokines, particularly IL‐1α, IL‐1β, and IL‐18.

Although the data found higher concentrations of IL-18 in SSc patients, IL-1β was associated with increased scarring in individuals with higher concentrations of the cytokine (especially those with the limited form of the disease). Higher proportions of IL‐1α were similarly associated with higher levels of autoantibodies often used as a biomarker for SSc.

Researchers say the data suggests that the IL-1 cytokine family might play a role in the development of fibrotic complications in people with SSc. The study was the yet of the role of the IL-1 family in SSc.


Cytokine profiles can be used as a baseline for establishing criteria of a particular autoimmune disorder. Why might it be useful to have such a template? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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