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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Mendoza, F. A., Piera-Velazquez, S., Farber, J. L., Feghali-Bostwick, C., & Jiménez, S. A. (2016). Endothelial cells expressing endothelial and mesenchymal cell gene products in lung tissue from patients with systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease. Arthritis and Rheumatology, 68(1), 210-217, which has been published in final form at DOI: 10.1002/art.39421. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


OBJECTIVE: To examine whether lung endothelial cells (ECs) from patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc)-associated interstitial lung disease (ILD) express mesenchymal cell-specific proteins and gene transcripts, indicative of the occurrence of endothelial-to-mesenchymal phenotypic transition (EndoMT).

METHODS: Lung tissue from 6 patients with SSc-associated pulmonary fibrosis was examined by histopathology and immunohistochemistry. Confocal laser microscopy was utilized to assess the simultaneous expression of EC and myofibroblast molecular markers. CD31+CD102+ ECs were isolated from the lung tissue of 2 patients with SSc-associated ILD and 2 normal control subjects, and the expression of EC and mesenchymal cell markers and other relevant genes was analyzed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction, immunofluorescence microscopy, and Western blotting.

RESULTS: Immunohistochemical staining revealed cells expressing the EC-specific marker CD31 in the subendothelial, perivascular, and parenchymal regions of the lungs from all SSc patients. Confocal microscopy identified cells displaying simultaneous expression of von Willebrand factor and α-smooth muscle actin in small and medium-sized arterioles in the SSc lung tissue but not in normal control lungs. CD31+CD102+ ECs isolated from SSc lungs expressed high levels of mesenchymal cell-specific genes (type I collagen, type III collagen, and fibronectin), EC-specific genes (type IV collagen and VE-cadherin), profibrotic genes (transforming growth factor β1 and connective tissue growth factor), and genes encoding EndoMT-related transcription factors (TWIST1 and SNAI2).

CONCLUSION: Cells coexpressing EC- and mesenchymal cell-specific molecules are present in the lungs of patients with SSc-associated ILD. CD31+CD102+ ECs isolated from SSc lungs simultaneously expressed mesenchymal cell- and EC-specific transcripts and proteins. Collectively, these observations demonstrate the occurrence of EndoMT in the lungs of patients with SSc-associated ILD.

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