Varicose vein disease is a frequently occurring pathology with multifactorial causes and a genetic component. An intense remodelling of the varicose vein wall has been described and could be at the origin of its weakness and altered elasticity. We have described previously a dysregulation of collagen synthesis in cultured smooth muscle cells from saphenous veins and in dermal fibroblasts from the skin of patients with varicose veins, suggesting a systemic defect in their connective tissue. The present study describes comparative morphological and immunohistochemical data in both the skin and saphenous veins of eight control subjects (undergoing coronary bypass surgery) and eight patients with varicose veins. Histological staining of glycoproteins, the elastic fibre network and collagen bundles showed that the remodelling and fragmentation of elastic fibres observed in varicose veins were also present in the skin of the patients. When compared with control subjects, we observed in both the veins and skin of patients with varicose veins (i) an increase in the elastic network, as quantified by image analysis; (ii) an accumulation of collagen type I, fibrillin-1 and laminin; and (iii) an overproduction of MMP (matrix metalloproteinase)-1, MMP-2 and MMP-3, analysed by immunohistochemistry, but normal levels of other MMPs (MMP-7 and MMP-9) and their inhibitors (TIMP-1, TIMP-2 and TIMP-3). An imbalance of extracellular matrix production/degradation was thus observed in veins as well as in the skin of the patients with varicose veins and, taken together, these findings show that remodelling is present in different organs, confirming systemic alterations of connective tissues.

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