Study Findings Suggest Concentration of Immune Cells Could Help Predict Systemic Sclerosis

According to a publication from Scleroderma News, a recent study suggests that blood concentrations of certain immune cells could correlate with the severity of cases of systemic sclerosis.

About Systemic Sclerosis

Systemic sclerosis (also called systemic scleroderma) is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the progressive scarring of the skin and any number of internal organs. Like other autoimmune conditions, systemic sclerosis is caused by a malfunctioning immune system that mistakenly targets healthy tissues and organs of the host as though they were foreign pathogens.

Researchers have identified a number of genes they believe to be associated with the development of systemic sclerosis. The genes most commonly associated are part of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex, which is located entirely in just a small segment of the number six chromosome. This segment is hugely varied in humans — it is known to be the most polymorphic genetic system in our species. That means there’s an incredibly diverse collection of “working” combinations of the component gene. Each gene in the complex has several different variants that can properly function.

Biologically, the HLA complex helps the body to differentiate between friendly proteins and pathogenic proteins. Although not directly linked to development of the condition, a number of the normal variants of the HLA complex are thought to increase the likelihood of developing systemic sclerosis. This association between “normal” forms of the HLA complex and systemic sclerosis highlights the difficulty of predicting the disease, which most often occurs in individuals with no family history thereof.

Although treatments exist to combat the worst of the symptoms, there is currently no cure for systemic sclerosis. The prognosis of systemic sclerosis patients can vary wildly — some may have only mild symptoms, others may have life-threatening complications.

New Research May Help Predict Severity of Systemic Sclerosis Cases

The new study, published in Clinical Rheumatology, suggests that blood levels of neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes may be useful in predicting the severity of systemic sclerosis activity in patients.

A study of 119 individuals found that the 69 systemic sclerosis patients in the active group had “significantly higher” neutrophil counts than the 50 healthy individuals of the control group. Their lymphocyte count, however, was significantly lower. Interestingly, monocyte counts seemed similar between both groups.

Researchers noted that the neutrophil-monocyte-lymphocyte ratios could be useful for predicting patients particularly affected by systemic sclerosis. Higher neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratios were positively correlated with scarring of the skin, body-wide inflammation, and overall disease activity. The ratio was found to be larger in individuals with fingertip ulcers, a common symptom of systemic sclerosis. Monocyte-to-lymphocyte ratio was positively correlated with skin scarring, fingertip ulcers, and cardiac effects.

Researchers believe this information, if confirmed by others, could be useful in global health screening for systemic sclerosis. “Globally available and inexpensive hematological tests,” could be used as predictors of the condition, researchers said.

Early detection is an important part of managing the symptoms of systemic sclerosis. If the findings of the new study are accurate, how might it help detecting the condition?  Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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