Progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), is a connective tissue disease characterized by excessive accumulation of collagen in the skin and various internal organs which is due, at least in part, to increased collagen production by PSS fibroblasts. In order to examine the molecular mechanisms responsible for this abnormality, we compared the kinetics of collagen biosynthesis, the intracellular degradation of collagen and the expression of Types I and III procollagen genes between normal and PSS dermal fibroblasts in culture. Two age- and sex-matched normal and PSS dermal fibroblast cell lines were studied. The results showed that the PSS cultures produced higher amounts of collagen than did normal fibroblasts and displayed an abnormal kinetic pattern. Furthermore, the PSS cells showed a slight but statistically significant increase in the fraction of collagen degraded intracellularly when compared with normal cells (23% against 18% respectively). The levels of mRNA for procollagen Types I and III were determined by Northern and dot-blot hybridization with specific cloned cDNA probes for alpha 1(I), alpha 2(I) and alpha 1(III) and it was found that they were 2-3-fold higher for each of the three chains in the PSS cell lines compared with the controls. These findings indicate, therefore, that the overproduction of collagen characteristic of PSS fibroblasts can be largely accounted for by the increased levels of collagen mRNA.

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